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For Release: Tuesday, June 11, 2019

DEC and DHSES Hold Preparedness Training for Potential Pine Barrens Wildfire on Long Island

DEC Forest Rangers Spearhead Multi-Agency Training Exercise to Improve Response to Potentially Devastating Wildfires

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) today announced the start of a multi-agency tabletop training exercise on Long Island that will help prepare local, state, and federal agencies for a rapid response in the event of a fire in the Central Pine Barrens, the expansive 100,000-acre ecosystem that is Long Island's largest natural area.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "DEC Forest Rangers work together with local agencies to help control the most serious wildfires that occur anywhere in the state. I commend our Rangers for coordinating this important training on Long Island and bringing together partners like DHSES and others for this vital emergency preparedness exercise, which will ensure proper coordination in any wildfire incidents."

Acting DHSES Commissioner Patrick A. Murphy said, "This exercise brings key federal, state and local partners together to test response and coordination measures to help protect Long Island's residents and the fragile Pine Barrens ecosystem from a potential wildfire. Through these exercises, teams from multiple jurisdictions will not only have the opportunity to assess and validate capabilities, but also identify and address areas where improvement is needed in order to ensure they are prepared to respond to potentially life-threatening wildfires."

The last major fire in the Pine Barrens occurred in 2012, when a 992-acre wildfire destroyed three homes and one fire engine. One of the largest wildfires in state history, the Sunrise Fire, occurred in August 1995 and scorched 4,500 acres of pine barrens land, damaged a dozen homes, forced the evacuation of about 400 residents, and injured 25 firefighters.

The tabletop training exercise, which is being led by DEC Forest Rangers with support from the DHSES Office of Emergency Management and Office of Fire Prevention and Control, is the first training of its kind in eastern Long Island and is constructed in accordance with federal Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) guidelines. The mission is to conduct a low-stress, low-impact discussion-based exercise that will test multiple state and local wildfire firefighting plans during a simulated wildfire in the Central Pine Barrens of Suffolk County.

The training is intended to help nurture communication between agencies, create dialogue concerning intended tactics/actions of a response to a major fire, practice the actions of an Incident Command Structure (ISC) and the Incident Management Team (IMT), and discuss timeline and actions of calling for additional mutual aid, state and federal resources, and fixed-wing fire suppression aircraft.

In addition to DEC and DHSES staff, participating in the exercise are:

  • U.S. Department of Energy - Brookhaven National Lab
  • New York State Police - Troop L, Aviation Unit
  • Suffolk County Fire, Rescue & Emergency Services and Office of Emergency Management
  • Suffolk County EMS Division
  • Suffolk County Sheriff's Office
  • Suffolk County Department of Health Services
  • Suffolk County Water Authority
  • LI Pine Barrens Commission
  • Town of Brookhaven Department of Public Safety
  • Manorville Fire Department
  • Ridge Fire Department
  • Brookhaven National Lab Fire Department
  • Center Moriches Fire Department
  • East Moriches Fire Department
  • Flanders Fire Department
  • Mastic Fire Department
  • Riverhead Fire Department
  • Westhampton Beach Fire Department
  • Yaphank Fire Department

DEC's Division of Forest Protection ("Forest Ranger Division") is designated as New York's lead agency for wildfire mitigation in the state's Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. It is the policy of the state that local government and emergency services are the first line of defense for emergency response. In the case of wildfire, the local fire department has the primary responsibility (incident command) for the control and containment of wildfires in their jurisdiction.

New York state is 30.9 million acres in size with 18.9 million acres of forested lands. Currently, more than 1,700 fire departments statewide respond to an average of 4,500 wildfires each year. Forest Rangers respond to approximately three percent of all wildfires, however, they help contain 33 percent of all wildfire acres.

The State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFP&C) indicates that from 2003 through 2017, fire departments throughout New York responded to 80,882 wildfires, brush fires, grass fires or other outdoor fires (all natural vegetation fires). Although this averages approximately 5,400 fires per year, 2005 through 2010, 2012, and 2016 were above-average years with 6,500 or more fires.

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

To view a map of wildfires across the state since 2003, visit the DEC website.
To view the state's fire danger map that is updated daily, visit the DEC website.

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