Burning debris is banned in many communities and is certainly annoying to neighbors. This summer, it is also downright dangerous.
The dry summer has turned lawns and fields a crispy yellow. It would take very little for one spark to spread into a conflagration that could consume homes and forests. Yet we continue to field complaints from people whose neighbors are setting fires in burn barrels or torching brush in their backyards.
First off, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations ban the burning of garbage at all times and in all places. You just can’t do it legally. People tell us that they can smell plastic and other garbage in with “brush” being burned by neighbors. Imagine the pollutants released into the air by a fire of that nature.
Then there is the issue of burning leaves or brush. Longtime Plattsburgh residents will remember a time when that was perfectly legal, even in the close quarters of city neighborhoods. Families used to visit with each other as they stood curbside burning their leaves, sometimes with aluminum-foil-wrapped apples tucked into the pile for later consumption. It’s a friendly image of Americana, but today’s environmentally aware residents would not take kindly to smoke from a neighbors’ fire pouring in their window. Even in rural communities, where properties aren’t as cozy, people don’t want the smell and messiness of smoke in their homes.
But, when the land is parched, outdoor fires are more than an inconvenience. Every year, New York bans residential brush burning from March 16 through May 14 because it is a period of high fire risk. Because last winter was so mild, the danger was even greater this year.
In 2009, New York toughened its restrictions on open burning to reduce harmful air pollutants and prevent fires. Under state law, open burning is prohibited year-round in the Adirondack Park without a written permit from DEC. The rules allow residents in other towns with populations of less than 20,000 to burn brush, except in early spring, when burning is banned in all communities.
Open burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in New York state. DEC’s Forest Protection Division reports that debris burning accounted for about 36 percent of wildfires between 1985 and 2009. From 2000 to 2009, fire departments responded to an average of 2,300 wildfires each year from March 16 to May 14. But data for 2010 and 2011 shows that wildfires were reduced 26 percent during that period, thanks to the burn ban.
If you know someone who is burning illegally, report them to 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332). Doing so might save your property, even your home, from fire.