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For Release: Friday, May 3, 2013

DEC: High Fire Risk in New York State

Public Reminded of Ban on Brush Burning through May 14

With dry weather conditions prevailing, New York State is now at a high danger of wildfires, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) cautioned today. New Yorkers who reside in smaller communities should be aware that all residential brush burning is prohibited during the state's historically high-fire-risk period which is March 16 through
May 14.

"Since the open burning regulation passed in 2009, there are a fewer number of fires reported in New York State this time of year," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "I urge everyone to be cautious since the risk of wildfires is greater this time of year and remind all New Yorkers that the statewide ban is in effect through mid-May."

"The weather over the next few days is predicted to stay sunny with low relative humidity which will dry out things even more. The area will also experience an increase of user groups enjoying the outdoors this weekend with the advent of turkey season, start of prom season, and outdoor camping; thus, it's important to remember the burn ban that is in place."

In 2009, New York toughened restrictions on open burning to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires. While the 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 Division of Forest Protection show that debris burning accounted for about 36 percent of wildfires in the state between 1985 and 2009 - more than twice the next most-cited cause. In addition, from 2000 to 2009, New York's fire departments responded to an average of 2,300 wildfires each year during the period of March 16 through May 14 or about 46 percent of all wildfires for the year.

Fire department data for 2010, 2011 and 2012 indicated a 35 percent reduction in wildfires during the burn ban period for those years when compared to the previous 10 years (2000-2009). In addition, 80 percent of all communities across the state had a reduction of wildfires as compared to the previous 10 years.

Violators of the open burning state regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with the minimum fine of $500 for a first offense. To report environmental law violations call 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332), or go to DEC's website. A list of questions and answers on the new open burning regulation is available on DEC's website.

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