GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Temperatures in the 70s and 80s this week have made April feel more like a summer month than a spring one. The prospect of early shorts weather may be attractive, but comes with drawbacks – ones that can cause acres of damage.
On Friday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reclassified parts of the upper Hudson Valley and North Country as “high risk” Fire Danger Rating Areas, as well as the entirety of western New York. Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties, and parts of the Adirondack High Peaks, join a list that earlier this week only extended as far as Albany. Fire risk heightens when dry leaves and grass are exposed to too much direct warm sunlight, without any newly-growing leaves to shield them. Spring is primetime.
Warren County’s inclusion on the high-risk list should come as no surprise to those who live in it. On Wednesday, a brush fire tore quickly through three acres of vegetation at Hudson Pointe Nature Preserve in Queensbury. The source was a common one: A campfire gone wrong on a dry day.
“The biggest concern right now is that it’s been so windy recently, and everything is so dry,” said Warren County Fire Coordinator Ralph Bartlett. “If it’s dry but there isn’t a lot of wind to spread the fire, it’s not that big of a threat. Wind is what helped to push the fire at Hudson Pointe.”
The threat of wind gets bigger if a fire is close to a residential area. Hudson Pointe Preserve is adjacent to neighborhoods around West Mountain, not too far from western Glens Falls. Winds can carry embers or burning leaves to roofs or cars – which spreads the risk from forest to community.
Officials on Friday said that the fire at the preserve was started by local teenagers who failed to properly maintain a campfire. They themselves were the ones to call the fire in. It’s just one within the greater Capital Region. This week, brush fires have been spotted and fought in Richmondville, Wilton and Spencertown.
Improperly-tended campfires are a common cause of fire, especially during a dry season. A statewide burn ban in effect until May 14 allows for campfires to stay in use within certain restrictions, but the DEC emphasizes the importance of extinguishing them when no longer in use. The assumption that a fire will burn itself out can have nature-scarring consequences.
“A lot of wildfires I’ve heard about started because someone would be camping and leave a fire to burn out – and then it smolders and spreads. That was what happened on Darling Mountain in Queensbury,” said Warren County Communications Manager Don Lehman, referring to a 2019 fire that took place not far from the Glens Falls watershed.
While the burn ban stays in effect across the state for another month, things should be expected to take a turn for the better soon. Rain will make the difference between high and moderate fire risk, as the weather will encourage new growth on trees to shade the dry ground. The forecast in the days ahead shows steady rain – and dropping temperatures – from Sunday into next week. All the region has to do is get there.
“Once we get the rain and the leaves get out there, it’ll be better. We’ve just got to wait through the weekend,” said Lehman.