Burn ban goes into effect Saturday in New York as officials warn of dry conditions

The ingredients for a wildfire were all around us coming out of a dry winter, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Wildfires were once again a concern in New York state, after intense smoke threatened the quality of our air last year. DEC is putting in place its annual burn ban from March 16 to May 14.

Brush and other surfaces like the Pine Bush Preserve in Albany is usually covered in snow or is wet, but this year, it’s dry, making the perfect conditions for a backyard fire to get out of hand.

“That’s where we find ourselves right now, coming out of a relatively mild winter with very little snow cover on the ground,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Seggos joined forest rangers at a news conference Thursday to ask people not to burn brush – meaning open fires and burning trash is prohibited.

“Open burning, that’s the burning of debris, sticks, the kinds of things when you’re cleaning out your yard, that is the largest cause of spring wildfires and that always has been,” he said.

DEC has been banning brush burning since 2009. Wildfires have decreased 40% in New York State in that time.

Still, forest rangers respond to dozens of wildfires each year. Ninety-five percent of them are caused by people, DEC said.

“A lot of the fires that we do respond to were somebody’s legal fire yesterday, they don’t put it out properly, they think it’s out, they leave it, and the next afternoon the sun starts shining, the fire’s still got a little bit of coals going, and it takes off into a wildfire,” Fire Management Officer Captain Scott Jackson said.

In the summer of 2023, smoke from Canadian wildfires filled New Yorkers’ lungs and created apocalyptic scenes from New York City to Albany and beyond. DEC said it was an example of the danger fires pose.

This season is already showing the potential for fires, they said.

“We have seen favorable conditions for fires over the last few weeks,” Seggos said. “There is certainly a misconception that New York and its landscape is not a fire-prone environment. This is not a western states phenomena. Eastern states like New York regularly have fire conditions, especially in the spring.”