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Wildfires

To report a forest fire call 911 immediately.

Forest Ranger Emergency Contact:

  • 518-408-5850
  • 518-891-0235 (Adirondacks)
Watch a public service announcement about the statewide ban on open burning and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

Wildfires, often called forest fires, damage thousands of acres of natural resources most every year in New York. Although wildfires naturally occur from lightning, human activities are the cause of most wildfires. To protect our natural resources and communities from wildfire damage, residents, visitors, and municipal jurisdictions must contribute to wildfire prevention and fire containment.

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Wildfire terms defined

  • Wildfires are unplanned or unwanted fires burning vegetation in areas where growth is minimal or non-existent. They may also be referred to as
    • forest fires;
    • brush fires;
    • grass fires;
    • range fires;
    • ground fires; or
    • crown fires.
  • Wildland Fires include wildfires and those fires intentionally set or allowed to burn according to a recognized land management plan and are commonly referred to as prescribed fires or controlled burns.
  • Wildland-Urban Interface Fires are wildfires that burn or threaten to burn buildings and other structures.
  • Wildfire Mitigation is the activity of reducing the risk of wildfires and their associated property loss, forest damage, and sometimes loss of life.
  • Wildland Fire Management is activity related to wildfire mitigation and the use of prescribed fire to accomplish ecological goals.

Wildfire Occurrence

According to Forest Rangers Division wildfire occurrence data from 1993-2017 (PDF), wildfires in New York State are caused by the following.

  • 95% by humans;
  • lightning is responsible for 5%;
  • debris burning accounts for 33%;
  • incendiary fires account for 16%;
  • campfires cause 16%;
  • children are responsible for 4%;
  • smoking, equipment, railroads, and miscellaneous causes contribute to the remaining 25% of wildfires.

Beginning in 2010, New York enacted revised open burning regulations that ban brush burning statewide from March 15 through May 15, a period when 47% of all fire department-response wildfires occur. Forest ranger data indicates that this new statewide ban resulted in 46% fewer spring wildfires caused by debris burning in upstate New York from 2010-2017 when compared to the previous 8-year average. Debris burning has been prohibited in New York City and Long Island for more than 40 years.

Wildland Fire Management in New York

New York state is 30.9 million acres in size with 18.9 million acres of non-federal forested lands. In addition, there is an undetermined amount of open-space non-forested lands with significant wildfire potential. The wetlands of western New York State and New York City frequently burn as weather conditions allow. These fires are not only spectacular in their intensity but quite often threaten nearby homes, businesses, or improvements, thereby becoming a wildland-urban interface fire.

Prescribed fires

Not all fires are negative events. Prescribed fire is a tool used to manage fire dependent ecosystems in a manner that develops a resilient natural balance of fire in the desired vegetation. These fires are regulated by law and regulation and require technical expertise to conduct the burns safely.

Support to New York

Quebec CL-415 air tanker in NY for a demonstration of water drops
Quebec CL-415 air tanker in NY for a demonstration of water drops

Some years, when wildfire occurrence is high, fire departments and forest rangers need help to control them. New York has several mutual aid options with other states, federal agencies, and Canadian provinces:

  • New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES);
  • State Office of Emergency Management (SOEM);
  • New York State Police Aviation Unit;
  • New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs;
  • National Guard;
  • Department of Correctional Services;
  • US Forest Service;
  • National Park Service;
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service;
  • Quebec;
  • Newfoundland Labrador; and
  • New Brunswick

More about Wildfires: