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DEC advises of high wildfire risk in New York

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday advised residents about New York's high-risk period for wildfires and reminded them to follow restrictions that prohibit residential brush burning.

Joe Martens, the agency's commissioner, said in a news release that most New Yorkers are prohibited from burning brush from March 16 through May 14, which marks the state's historically high-fire-risk period.

"Since the open-burning regulation passed in 2009, there are a fewer number of fires reported in New York State this time of year," Martens said. "I urge everyone to be cautious since the risk of wildfires is greater this time of year."

Martens added that "the weather over the next few days is predicted to stay sunny with low relative humidity which will dry out things even more."

Dry weather conditions during the spring months often lead to ideal conditions for wildfires, officials said.

In 2009, New York toughened restrictions on open burning to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires. While the regulation allows residential brush burning for most of the year in communities with a population of less than 20,000, it prohibits open burning in all communities during early spring, when the bulk of New York's wildfires typically occur.

The regulation also prohibits the burning of garbage at all times and places.

Open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State, the agency said.

Data from the DEC's Division of Forest Protection show that debris burning accounted for about 36 percent of the state's wildfires between 1985 and 2009 - more than twice the next most-cited cause.

From 2000 to 2009, New York's fire departments responded to an average of 2,300 wildfires each year during the period of March 16 through May 14, or about 46 percent of all wildfires for the year.

Fire department data for 2010, 2011 and 2012 indicated a 35 percent reduction in wildfires during the burn ban period for those years when compared with the previous 10 years (2000-2009). In addition, 80 percent of all communities across the state had a reduction of wildfires as compared with the previous 10 years, the agency said.

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

To report environmental violations call 800-847-7332 or visit www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/67751.html.

More information on the new open burning regulation is at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/58519.html.

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