N.Y. Officials Take New Look at Wildfire Suppression

The agency overseeing land management, conservation efforts and stewardship in the 102,000-acre central pine barrens region will take a renewed look at fire suppression and water well placement after two fires in two weeks charred more than 1,200 acres.

At a meeting Wednesday, the Central Pine Barrens Commission directed staff to issue a request for proposals for the creation of a prescribed burn plan and a contract to conduct controlled burns.

Experts say burning in controlled environments can reduce fire danger by removing the needles, leaves and shrubs that feed a fire.

"We fairly narrowly avoided disaster in the past week," said Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, who sits on the commission and whose town was hit hardest by the fires.

The first began April 9, and over the next day burned more than 1,100 acres, destroyed six structures and injured three firefighters battling a fire that hit parts of Manorville, Ridge and Riverhead. The second came Tuesday, when fire ignited south of the Long Island Expressway in Manorville and covered 125 acres.

The commission also asked staff to estimate the number of wells needed to protect small pockets of development in the 160-sqaure-mile region where fire hydrants are not always available.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean M. Walter pushed for a measure so out-of-town fire departments needn't scramble for water sources in unfamiliar landscapes, as he said happened during the April 9 fire.

"We can talk about prescribed burns and everything else, but the immediate need is water," he said.

The fires come at a time of increased temperatures, high winds and severe-drought conditions in which a tossed cigarette, illegal burn or spark from an ATV can ignite dried needles, leaves and other fuels.

"I think the recent fires have illustrated this point that we need to redouble efforts," Lesko said earlier in the day. "You have to have a plan that's comprehensive."

Commission members will also publicize the Wildfire and Incident Management Academy, which provides free basic wildfire training to Suffolk and Nassau county volunteer firefighters once a year.

Copyright 2012 - Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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