It is a common misunderstanding that New York State only restricts burning during the Burn Ban. That is simply not true and failing to abide by the NYS Open Fires Law can result in fines and arrests anytime of the year.
NYS first enacted strict regulations on open burning in 2009 to help reduce air pollution and prevent wildfires, reducing them by 35 percent since 2009. Open fire is defined as “any outdoor fire or outdoor smoke producing process from which air contaminants are emitted directly into the outdoor atmosphere” and does include burning in barrels or modified barrels.
Currently all open fires are prohibited in New York State, however there are several exceptions. For the full law including all exceptions you can view Part 215: Open Fires on the DEC’s site, but the most relevant exceptions to our area are as follows:
a) Branches less than six inches in diameter and eight feet in length, also known as residential brush, only between May 15 and the following March 15.
b) Barbecue grills, maples sugar arches, and similar outdoor cooking devices when used for cooking or processing food.
c) Small fires used for cooking and campfires provided that only charcoal or untreated wood is used as fuel and the fire is not left unattended until extinguished. Campfires must be less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length.
f) Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires where not otherwise prohibited by law, provided that only untreated wood or other agricultural products are used as fuel and the fire is not left unattended until extinguished.
The burn ban runs March 16 to May 14 of every year, though it can sometimes be extended. The burn ban restricts burning of residential brush however; our department strongly discourages ALL burning during the burn ban when most wildfires occur.
Burning leaves is banned statewide and all year long, as is burning trash. This includes burning trash in wood stoves, fireplaces, outdoor wood boilers, and burn barrels. The DEC encourages everyone compost leaves instead of burning them and recycle or legally dispose of trash.
The 25-year average tells us that out of 5,650 fires, 3,593 of them were during the months that now make up the burn ban: March, April, and May. Debris burning and un-extinguished campfires are the top two categories of human-caused wildfires in our state, with 1,902 of those 5,650 fires being caused by debris.
Combined fire departments and DEC rangers responded to 3,943 wildfires in 2016. The fine is a minimum of $500.00 for a first offense. If the illegal fire you started damages property or causes injury or death, fines skyrocket and charges become much more serious.
The burn ban reduces wildfires risks and protects your life and property. In 2016, 5,961 acres were burned with a fire size average of 22.7 acres. Such a loss could be devastating to our rural farming community that loves outdoor recreational activities. Your adherence to the Open Fires Law is greatly appreciated by your neighbors, our department, and the DEC.
Illegal burning can be reported any time of the year by calling 911. The non-emergency number for the Tioga County Sheriff is (607) 687-1010. Please do not call the station to report an illegal fire, as phones are not manned around the clock. Once a fire is called in we will be dispatched by the Sheriff’s Office to extinguish the fire and the DEC will become involved as necessary.
Questions about the Burn Ban can be directed to the Cortland DEC office by calling (607) 753-3095.
Berkshire Fire Company Volunteer Firefighter