October 27, 2021

Burn ban set to take effect

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

Cortlandville firefighter Eve Mascoli prepares the department’s burn truck, a lightweight pickup designed to battle brush fires. An open burn ban begins Tuesday and runs through May 14 in New York.

Open burning and brush fires will be banned Tuesday in New York state as the risk of wildfire increases — a restriction the state Department of Environmental Conservation implements annually.

Brush, grass and forest fires account for 23% of fires handled by municipal or county fire departments, the National Fire Protection Association reports.

Between 2011 and 2015, fire departments responded to about 306,000 brush fires a year — 840 per day.

Most departments in Cortland County see half a dozen brush fires a year, said Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish.

“The burn ban started a long time ago,” Irish said. “The reason was because folks would burn garbage and things like that in burn barrels and they wouldn’t take into consideration the weather conditions or how dry the brush and grass were from the winter.”

The ban, in effect until May 14, prohibits individuals from burning anything above ground level that had dried out and was covered by snowfall.

If caught, individuals can be fined up to $500 for a first offense.

“It can become manpower intensive because in fields and things like that, you can’t get big trucks out there,” Irish said.

Instead, rural departments will use brush trucks — a skid mounted brush truck or custom assembled unit with a pump, tanks and hoses in the back — to get into fields or remote locations.

Avoiding brush fires

  • Recycle cardboard and paper, rather than burn it.
  • Have a water supply nearby, such as a hose.
  • Fire size can’t exceed 3 by 4 feet.
  • Supervise the fire.
  • Burn in a fire pit or an enclosed space.
  • Don’t exceed 24 hours.
  • Avoid burning on windy days.
  • For details, go to www.dec.ny.gov/ chemical/58519.html.

SOURCE: NYSDEC and Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish

“We have standard, modified pickups that are lightweight,” said Cortlandville Fire Chief Gere Henry. “Although the grass might look dry, the ground is usually soft and mushy and the vehicles get stuck.”

In situations where the pick up truck won’t work, the fire department has the Bota1, a lightweight, off road vehicle with better traction that’s designed to drive on top of the fields, Henry said.

A few years ago, Homer saw a brush fire consume 10 acres of grass fields. Its firefighters needed mutual aid from Cortlandville and Truxton assisted to get it extinguished.

“Someone was trying to burn something and the wind blew an ash out,” Irish said. “Most of the time, we find people that are doing it aren’t aware that they can’t.”

In anticipation for the high-risk season, New York state puts out brush fire warnings on the DEC website and most local fire departments, including Homer, issue their own statements.

Even if fire departments are notified beforehand of the brush fire, if it’s reported by neighbors, firefighters must douse it.