May 30, 2013

Editorial: Follow rules to reduce danger


---- — The rain came to the rescue this spring.

If you have been groaning about all the May showers we have been experiencing, you are definitely not a firefighter. That’s because, after a spate of brush fires that threatened forests and buildings in the North Country, Mother Nature has applied a natural sprinkler system that is reducing the danger.

It happens every year around this time. Sometimes it is lightning strikes that cause dry grass and brush to catch fire. But often, it is uninformed people who think the best way to clear the remains of last year’s lawn and field growth is to set it afire.

Not only does that not enhance new growth, but it often results in rapidly spreading flames that get out of control.

Burning lawns is risky, and burning garbage and leaves is actually illegal, yet those practices continue every year.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has clear rules about what can and can’t be burned. Burning trash is prohibited statewide in all cases. And open burning is prohibited in New York, except for a few select reasons.

You are allowed to have campfires less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length, width or diameter, as well as small cooking fires. Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires are also OK.

Fires cannot be left unattended, DEC says on its website, and must be fully extinguished. Only charcoal or clean, untreated or unpainted wood can be burned.

In towns with a total population of less than 20,000, you may burn tree limbs, as long as they are less than 6 inches in diameter and 8 feet in length. (However, even that is not allowed from March 16 to May 14 due to the increased risk of wildfires.)

Why all the restrictions? It is not just about fire danger, although DEC says that open burning is the single greatest cause of wildfires in New York. 

“Open burning of household trash releases dangerous compounds, including arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide and dioxin, among others,” DEC says.

Beyond the chemical threat, the air pollution from smoke is offensive to many neighbors. Why would someone want to continue a practice that irritates people living nearby?

In some communities, permits are required for open fires. The Environmental Conservation Law requires that a permit be obtained from DEC by anyone planning to burn brush within the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

In our area, those designated towns include Altona, AuSable, Black Brook, Dannemora, Ellenburg and Saranac in Clinton County; every town in Essex County; and Altamont, Belmont, Brighton, Duane, Franklin, Harrietstown, Santa Clara and Waverly in Franklin County.

We can’t count on the rain for protection, so heed the state’s burn rules. They are in place for a reason.