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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Spring burn ban now in effect

  • Reminder: The state’s annual early spring ban on brush burning went into effect Saturday, March 9.

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  • Reminder: The state’s annual early spring ban on brush burning went into effect Saturday, March 9.
    Burning brush is banned in all municipalities in New York from March 16 to May 14 under new laws enacted in 2009.
    That’s when the risk of wildfires is highest, due to a combination of factors: a lack of green vegetation, lots of dry grass and leaves on the ground to fuel blazes, warmer temperatures, and windy days.
    Open burning is by far the most common cause of wildfires in New York, and roughly half of all wildfires reported annually happen during the early spring, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
    It’s a time when the scanner in The Leader newsroom crackles regularly with reports of wildfires, keeping local volunteer fire departments busy. Spring wildfires can spread very fast, often threatening houses and barns, said Steuben County Fire Investigator Joe Gerych, who’s also a volunteer firefighter with the Kanona Fire Department.
    Once they get started, wildfires can be tough to contain, and they often require calling in multiple area fire departments, Gerych added.
    “The fire spreads fast, so you need more help. And the ground is still boggy, so you can’t get trucks out where you need to,” Gerych said. “We use AT-Vs, but they’re limited as to the water or the manpower they can carry. So a lot of it is ‘foot soldier’ work, firemen with backpacks and water tanks on their backs, carrying shovels, axes, chainsaws.”
    Brushfires tie up a lot of manpower, which means less volunteers available for other calls, such as accidents and medical issues, he added.
    The good news, Gerych says, is that the state’s new regulations have reduced the number of calls for brush fires.
    “They used to be a real problem,” he said. “They put in the ban, and that’s cut down, although there’s still some.”
    Statewide between 2000 and 2009, there were an average of 2,300 wildfires annually between mid-March and mid-May, according to DEC figures.
    Since the new rules went into place, that figure has dropped by 35 percent.
    Under the new laws, brush burning is allowed in towns with populations of 20,000 or less during other times of the year. Burning garbage is prohibited year-round in all municipalities in an effort to improve air quality.
    The minimum fine is $500 for a first offense for violating the open burning laws.
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