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For Release: Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Commissioner Martens Reminds Small Communities of High Fire Risk Season and State Ban on Brush Burning

Residential Brush Burning Prohibited March 16 - May 14

State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens today reminded New Yorkers who reside in smaller communities that all residential brush burning is prohibited during the state's historically high fire risk period beginning March 16 through May 14.

"Since the open burning regulation passed in 2009, we've already seen results in fewer number of fires reported in New York State this time of year, known as the highest fire risk time," Commissioner Martens said. "It's our responsibility to protect the health and safety of our children, families and our natural environment, therefore, we remind all New Yorker's that this is a time of risk and the statewide ban is now in effect through mid-May."

In 2009, New York toughened restrictions on open burning to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires. While the new regulation allows residential brush burning for most of the year in towns with a population of less than 20,000, it prohibits open burning in all communities during early spring when the bulk of New York's wildfires typically occur. The new regulation prohibits the burning of garbage at all times and places.

Several factors enable wildfires to start easily and spread quickly at this time, including the lack of green vegetation, abundance of available fuels such as dry grass and leaves, warm temperatures and wind.

Open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC's Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires in the state between 1986 and 2006 - more than twice the next most-cited source. In addition, from 2000 to 2007, New York's fire departments responded to an average of 2,600 wildfires each year during the period of March 14 through May 16.

DEC Forest Ranger data for 2010 indicated a 33 percent reduction in wildfires caused by debris burning during the burn ban period last year when compared to the past 10 years, including weather considerations. In addition, based on information provided by statewide fire departments, 70 percent of the smaller communities across the state had a reduction from overall number of wildfires.

Some of the comments received from Emergency Services and Fire Departments across the state include:

"We certainly appreciate the support from the public on this new regulation," said Matthew Beckwith, Fire Coordinator/ Director of Emergency Management for Chenango County Bureau of Fire. "The effort of this ban is not to penalize people from burning, as much as it is to protect people's property from fire damage that may not be intentional. Since the burn ban was in effect, we have cut our number of grass fires by nearly 98 percent from the previous year. Together working with the DEC our area Fire Departments will continue to promote the burn band in an effort to conserve life and property."

"The burn ban was very successful in reducing the number of brush fires last year here in Broome County," said Brett B. Chellis, Director/Fire Coordinator for Broome County Office of Emergency Service.

"Franklin County Fire Departments reported significant reductions in the number of wild-land fire responses during the statewide burn ban in 2010," said Rick Provost, Franklin County Emergency Services Manager. "We believe that the burn ban regulation will continue to reduce wild-land fire responses in the spring fire weather season. Wild-land firefighting can be very dangerous and when a regulation reduces the number of response it directly impacts Firefighter safety in a positive way."

"Every year in Onondaga County, a large number of brush fires occur during early Spring before the greening up period," said Joseph W. Rinefierd, Fire Bureau Director with Onondaga County Department of Emergency Management. "As a reminder, please note that burning yard waste is prohibited in almost every Town and Village in Onondaga County. During this higher risk time, please make sure you dispose of all smoking material properly and never leave barbecues/ outside fireplaces and grills unattended. Let's prevent fires and practice fire safety, so our firefighters can spend more time with their families this Spring."

"I expect this year to follow in last year's decreased number of calls and runs made for brush fires during this historically busy time of year and we do attribute the decrease to the state's burn ban," said Charlie Mutz, Ulster County Fire Coordinator. "We definitely support the efforts put forth by the ban."

Violators of the open burning state regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with the minimum fine of $375 for a first offense. To report environmental law violations call 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332), or report online on DEC's website.

A list of questions and answers on the new open burning regulation is available on DEC's website.

Some towns are designated "fire towns" primarily in and around the Adirondack Park and Catskill Park. Under Environmental Conservation Law, open burning is prohibited in these municipalities without a written permit from DEC. Open burning is prohibited at any time in these municipalities. To find out whether a town is a designated "Fire Town" and/or to obtain a permit, parties should contact a DEC regional office. For a directory of the DEC Regional Offices, visit the DEC website.

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