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Pine barrens residents asked to help prevent wildfires

Smoke rises from a massive brush fire in

Smoke rises from a massive brush fire in the pine barrens on April 9, 2012. Residents are being urged to take steps to prevent wildfires. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Residents and property owners in Ridge, Manorville and Calverton are being asked to join efforts to help prevent a wildfire like the one that scorched more than 1,000 acres in those communities three years ago.

Fire officials, residents and the state’s Long Island Pine Barrens commission are developing a plan that seeks to protect homes from future fires by encouraging homeowners to rid their properties of debris that could cause flames to spread rapidly.

A draft of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan will be discussed at a public meeting in February, with a final plan to be announced by next spring, said Judy Jakobsen, policy and planning manager for the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission.

Residents are invited to take part in an online survey at to help officials develop the plan. Efforts to draft the plan are funded by a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, Jakobsen said.

Homeowners can protect their houses by getting rid of mulch, dry leaves and other debris that can act as a “wick” as fire races from property to property, she said.

“A lot of it is good property maintenance. You have to be concerned about embers landing on your property, so it’s making sure your grass is kept green and leaves are out of your gutters,” Jakobsen said. “The goal is to reduce the wildfire risk in this area.”

The plan would cover 13,600 heavily wooded acres in Ridge, parts of Manorville and Calverton, and Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, where the Crescent Bow wildfire started on April 9, 2012, in a forested area away from lab buildings. The fire spread quickly to nearby woods and neighborhoods, burning 1,124 acres and destroying several homes before it was brought under control about 24 hours after it started.

A state investigation determined the fire had been deliberately set, but no arrests have been made.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said in a statement residents should take part in the survey.

“We’ve experienced devastating fires in the Pine Barrens and we know we are at risk for more,” he said, adding that the protection plan “is vital to the health and safety of residents and to the protection of private property and our critically important natural resources.”

Eric Rehbein, of Yaphank, a retired New York City firefighter involved in developing the protection plan, said some prevention measures, such as using fireproof building materials, may be too expensive for some homeowners. He said most measures are not onerous.

“There’s a lot of things that are not too difficult to do, and if it’s going to save their house, it’s definitely worth it,” he said.

Brookhaven National Lab ecologist Kathy Schwager, who is also helping develop the plan, said the federal research facility intends to thin wooded sections of the 5,300-acre property and reduce brush and shrubs. She said residents should take steps such as removing leaves and pine needles from rooftops.

“All those things could potentially be destroyed in a fire and end up destroying their own houses in a fire,” she said.

Protecting homes against wildfires

  • Mow lawns regularly
  • Prune trees 6 to 8 feet from the ground
  • Space conifer trees 30 feet apart
  • Water plants, trees and mulch
  • Create fire-free area 30 feet from house, using nonflammable landscaping materials and high-moisture shrubs
  • Remove dead vegetation from under decks and within 10 feet of house
  • Use fire-resistant material for roofing and exterior walls
  • Move firewood and propane tanks away from the house

SOURCE: National Fire Protection Association

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