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From the June 2012 Conservationist

A fire tower on a roocky mountaintop at dawn

On Patrol

By Forest Ranger Andrew Jacob and Bernadette LaManna

Each year, DEC forest rangers and ECOs are called upon to prevent and battle wildfires: unplanned fires in remote or lightly developed areas. Most wildfires are caused by debris burning, arson, campfires and unsupervised children-in other words, by people. Open burning is the single greatest cause of wildfires in New York State. This is especially true in the spring before 'green-up' when plants sprout their new foliage.

Beginning in 2010, New York instituted a new open-burning regulation that bans brush burning statewide from March 16 through May 14. Forest ranger data indicates that this new ban resulted in 33 percent fewer wildfires caused by debris burning in 2010 when compared to the previous ten-year average. Unfortunately, some people continue to defy the ban, and their actions often have catastrophic results.

Tamarack Fire

On the afternoon of Saturday, April 7, DEC forest rangers and staff from the Ulster County Fire Coordinator's Office joined dozens of fire department personnel from Ulster, Sullivan, Dutchess and Orange counties in responding to a blaze at the Tamarack Lodge in the Town of Warwarsing.

A house in the woods consumed in flames

At and around the site, they suppressed multiple structural fires and related wildfires, while striving to protect other structures and using aerial surveillance to look for additional fires. Crews worked late into the evening to bring the fires under control. Early the following morning, they returned to the area to extinguish hotspots and debris that had rekindled.

The "Tamarack Fire," a wildland-urban interface fire (one that burns or threatens to burn buildings and other structures), destroyed at least 10 residences and 34 other structures, displaced 18 people and injured a firefighter. Evidence suggests the fire was caused by the careless and unlawful burning of debris by a property owner, who was subsequently arrested and charged with several counts, including arson-a felony. The case is pending.

Crescent Bow Fire

Just days after the Tamarack Fire, another fire (the "Crescent Bow Fire") occurred in the southeast part of the state. Forest rangers and ECOs were among the first to spring into action on Monday, April 9 when the alarm sounded for the Crescent Bow fire in Suffolk County. This fire scorched more than 1,100 acres of state, county and federal lands. During the height of the fire, winds gusted up to 40 mph.

Forest Ranger Chris DiCintio coordinated aerial surveillance between state and county helicopter resources. He also directed bucket drops from the state police helicopter and completed aerial mapping of the fire. ECOs helped with evacuation efforts and directed local volunteer firefighters to access points close to the fire. Rangers from the operations center at the state Department of Homeland Security Emergency Services supported regional fire management and suppression efforts. Overall, DEC staff and volunteers spent five days patrolling the nine-mile fire perimeter, looking for hotspots and downing other burning material that had remained standing.

Rangers Charles Kabrehl, William Giraud and Capt. Edward Russell are assisting the Suffolk County Arson Squad in determining the fire's cause and origin. Although it is still under investigation, the fire is known to be human-caused.

Despite regulations designed to prevent wildfires, New York remains at serious risk for them, especially during extended droughts like the one this spring. Wildfire prevention is everyone's responsibility. And we all benefit when we do our part to keep New York State safe from wildfires.

Learn more about wildfires, or watch a public service announcement on open burning on DEC TV.

Photo: Carl Heilman II