Risk of brush fires not over, say officials

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The statewide burn ban came to an end today and the state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to warn residents that the danger of brush fires does not simply go away.

The annual ban on residential brush burning lasts from mid-March to May 14 because these months are particularly dry and the risk of grass and forest fires is especially high, state officials said.

Some communities, such as Utica and Rome have their own year-round rules regarding brush burning.

Local fire departments across the region have been responding to a number of reported brush fires in just the past week.

So even though the ban has lifted, the danger has not, according to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“The risk of wildfires remains high this spring across New York State, so it’s absolutely essential New Yorkers are mindful of the risk when doing any kind of residential outdoor brush burning,” Segos said in a release.

“To protect our communities and natural resources, we’re encouraging people to put safety first, don’t leave fires unattended, and ensure all fires are fully extinguished.”

New York first enacted strict restrictions on open burning in 2009 to help prevent wildfires and reduce air pollution, officials said. The regulations allow residential brush fires in towns with fewer than 20,000 residents during most of the year, but prohibit such burning in spring through May 14 when most wildfires occur.

Backyard fire pits and campfires less than 3-feet in height and 4-feet in length, width, or diameter are allowed. Small cooking fires are allowed. Only charcoal or dry, clean, untreated, or unpainted wood can be burned. People should never leave these fires unattended and must extinguish them, officials said. Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round.

Some towns, primarily in and around the Adirondack and Catskill parks, are designated “fire towns.” Open burning is prohibited year-round in these municipalities unless an individual or group has a permit from DEC.

Violators of the state’s open burning regulation are subject to criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense, officials said.

The DEC’s Fire Danger Map is available to view to see the state’s risk level at the department’s website at www.dec.ny.gov.

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