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A Conversation About - Fires

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 2/23/24 | 2/23/24

By Jean Thomas

This past summer, and several other summers prior, we’ve seen forest fires eating up thousands of acres across the continent. My friend, Anastasia Allwine, is a New York State Forest Ranger who took on the challenge of fighting one of these whoppers, and crossed international borders to do it. She was part of a team that traveled to Canada, among many international firefighting teams.

You may remember when we could smell the smoke and see the haze right here in the Catskills while thousands of acres of forest in Quebec Province were aflame. Well, Anastasia and her team were actually there. There is a remarkable coalition of state, local, and federal authorities in place, with intense training courses, and the NYS Forest Rangers are part of it.

I reconsidered the idea of volunteering once she described the training.  If any of you would like to volunteer, one required skill is to travel three miles in forty five minutes. Pretty easy without the mandatory forty five pound backpack. Oh, and you have to wear all that cool gear while you’re doing it.

I wondered about how help could be organized as quickly as we see on TV. The news people tell us about a wildfire somewhere and almost immediately they show teams boarding flights to the danger zone. In our region, there is a Northeast Compact in place, with seven states and several Canadian provinces as members. In fact, last year a group came from Quebec Province to assist with wildfires in Ulster County.  In an interview with “Nature Calls, Conversations from the Hudson Valley” at https://ccecolumbiagreene.org/gardening/nature-calls-conversations-from-the-hudson-valley/episode-108-nys-forest-rangers, Ranger Allwine describes vast acreage of devastation. Her team witnessed a phenomenon called “tree torches”, where a wildfire will creep through moss on the ground, then erupt along the whole height (often as much as thirty feet) of a tree at once. The event is, she says, “very noisy”. It also throws out masses of flaming needles and other parts of the tree over a large area, spreading the fire exponentially.  

I learned, too, that we’re really lucky to live in and near the Adirondacks…and Catskills. In the world of forest fire risks, the Adirondack region is considered less dangerous because of the wetter environment and the particular varieties of plants that grow there. This is, of course, not ironclad. There can be wildfires even now, although not as widespread as in other areas. And changing weather patterns leave all this subject to change.

There is a whole ‘nother fire control practice that the Rangers (and DEC people) do regularly. It’s called controlled burning. It happens that there are areas where it makes sense to burn areas of native growth to maintain the ecological value. Long Island has several areas maintained that way since huge wildfires once required thousands of firefighters to control. There is now an organization of local, state and Federal agencies on standby.  Another area requiring controlled burns is Albany’s Pine Bush Preserve. The symbol for this is, of course, the Karner Blue Butterfly, an endangered species. A controlled burn is a very precise operation, carried out with attention to many variables of weather. 

That’s all I have time for today. Some other time I’ll talk about the unique system of fire towers in the area, remnants of the time when fires were a much more active risk to our forests.


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