Jessica Nicosia - Emily Walko from Castleton warms her hands by her family’s campfire last week at the Northampton Campgrounds in Mayfield. She said she likes to “roast marshmallows and get warm” at the fire, and would be sad if she was not able to do so.
Jessica Nicosia - Kim Coon and Tim Boss enjoy their campfire at the Northampton Campgrounds in Mayfield.
For the Express
A burn ban issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation last month has caused some confusion in local villages and towns about what kinds of burning are still allowed.
The ban, which lasts until Oct. 10, prohibits residential brush fires in all of upstate New York and Long Island.
“There’s a ton of confusion with it,” said Scott Hall, chief of the Broadalbin Fire Department. “You can have a small campfire but it has to be so tall, so wide. We refer back to the DEC website.”
Cobleskill resident Kim Coon and her daughter Cassie both called Northampton Campgrounds before they went camping last week to ask if the ban applied to campfires.
“We wanted to make sure,” said Kim. “You know, get the disappointment over with if it was that.”
“We definitely questioned it,” said Cassie. “Because in our town, they said it was a burn ban. So we had questioned that and found that in pit fires it was OK. It was the bigger brush and open area fires that they had put the ban on.”
Debra Baker, the caretaker in charge at Northampton Campgrounds, said that as long as the campfires are contained to cement fire places in the campsites, they do not cause any harm.
Although campfires are still allowed, the DEC strongly advises that caution be taken. Campfires should be built in existing fire rings and be kept small, a 10-foot diameter should be cleared around the fire, and it should never be left unattended.
A permanent brush burn ban has been in effect every year since 2010, between March 15 and May 15, to prevent dangerous fires when people clear their land of debris in the spring.
But according to David Winchell, the DEC Region 5 spokesman, each county usually issues its own burn bans through offices of emergency services. He called a statewide burn ban “a little unusual.”
The stretch of hot, dry weather in the state thus far this summer has created conditions that are ideal for forest fires. The fire danger rating put out by the DEC goes from low to moderate, high, very high, and extreme. New York state is now rated at “high.”
Winchell said earlier this summer that the DEC typically does not issue a high fire danger warning until late August, but the fire season has come weeks early this year.
A DEC press release issued the day before the ban went into effect cited three fires in the Adirondacks so far this summer, one of which was started by an unattended campfire. Some parts of the state had received 25 percent of the normal spring and early summer rainfall, according to a press release from Gov. Cuomo that accompanied the burn ban announcement.
A recent return to more rainy conditions is beginning to stem the dry weather tide, but the state is not out of the woods yet.
Although there is not a ban on campfires so far this summer, there is precedent for one if the fire danger rating rises. The last was in 2002, when the fire danger was ‘very high.’ More than 100 fires burned 623 acres throughout the summer that year.
Another campfire ban occurred in the 1950s, when a large number of downed trees in the Adirondacks combined with hot, dry weather, creating perfect conditions for wildfires.
“We closed the woods essentially,” said Winchell. “The governor did. People could not go into the woods for any reason.”
This would be a major blow to the Adirondack economy. Some Northampton campers said they wouldn’t even come if there was a campfire ban.
“It wouldn’t be worth it,” said Josh Walko, a Castleton resident. “It’s part of camping. That’s what you do, you have a campfire, do s’mores, roast marshmallows, stuff for the kids.”
The Coon family, however, would not be kept away unless the woods were closed.
“We’ve been coming here for forever,” said Cassie Coon. “And we love it here. So [a campfire ban] would put a damper on it, but it’d be all right.”
According to Winchell, if rain continues to fall this month, the fire danger rating should not go up. Local residents are helping out by adhering to the current ban.
“They’re usually pretty compliant when we explain to them the situation,” said Richard Liberti, chief of the Amsterdam Fire Department.
“Most people really don’t give us too much of a hard time once we show them the paperwork,” agreed Scott Hall.
“If we see someone having a fire, we’re going to ask them to put it out,” said Winchell. “We’re going to educate them that there’s a burn ban on, but certainly we have the ability to issue tickets to people for violating the regulation.”