Wildfires, often called forest fires, damage thousands of acres of natural resources most every year in New York. Although wildfires naturally occur from lightning, most are caused by human activities. To protect our natural resources and communities from wildfire damage, residents, visitors and municipal jurisdictions must contribute to wildfire prevention and fire containment.

Not all fires are negative events. Prescribed fire is a tool used to manage fire dependent ecosystems in a manner that develops a resilient natural balance of fire in the desired vegetation. This website provides information and links about how wildfires in New York and how local, state and federal agencies contribute to protecting New Yorkers from wildfire damage and loss.

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Wildfire terms defined
  • Wildfires are unplanned or unwanted fires burning vegetation in areas where development is minimal or non-existent. They may also be referred to as forest fires, brush fires, grass fires, range fires, ground fires or crown fires.
  • Wildland Fires include wildfires and those fires intentionally set or allowed to burn according to a recognized land management plan and are commonly referred to as prescribed fires or controlled burns.
  • Wildland-Urban Interface Fires are wildfires that burn or threaten to burn buildings and other structures.
  • Wildfire Mitigation is activity designed to reduce or eliminate risks of wildfire to people or property by reducing the actual or potential effects, or consequences of a wildfire.
  • Wildland Fire Management is activity related to wildfire mitigation and the use of prescribed fire to accomplish ecological goals.
Wildland Fire Management in New York

New York state is 30.9 million acres in size with 18.9 million acres of non-federal forested lands. These forests support destructive and deadly wildfires when weather conditions are favorable for fire to spread. In addition, there is an undetermined amount of open-space non-forested lands with significant wildfire potential. The wetlands of western New York State and New York City frequently burn as weather conditions allow. These fires are not only spectacular in their intensity but quite often threaten nearby homes, businesses or improvements, thereby becoming a wildland-urban interface fire. Forest and wildlife managers use prescribed fire to burn wildlands in order to accomplish specific management goals. These fires are regulated by law and regulation and require technical expertise to conduct the burns safely.

New York’s Wildfire History

In the last exceptionally dry fire season of 2002, forest rangers responded to 324 wildfires throughout the state, burning a total of 2,062 acres. In historical contrast, the similarly dry weather of 1903 spawned over 643 fires which burned 464,000 acres in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks alone. The difference from 1903 to 2012 is a direct result of 125 years of Forest Ranger efforts, working to prevent wildfires and improve fire control response.

Forest rangers respond to approximately 4% of all wildfires in the state. More than 1,700 fire departments respond to an average of 5,500 wildfires each year.

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