Despite the stir-craziness no doubt resulting from a planetary pandemic, chief Cory Wirthmann of the New Paltz Fire Department is still worried about what could happen if the ban on open fires is ignored. He was reached for comment after expressing concern over illegal fireworks that were set off in town last week, which could also ignite brush during the relatively arid conditions this time of year.
“I just want to remind everyone that the burn ban is still in effect,” he wrote in an email. “It stays in effect until May 14, unless state officials determine a longer period of time is needed based on ground conditions.
The lifelong resident of New Paltz understands what’s going on. “There are a lot of people out of work right now, and understandably performing some spring cleanup,” he said. “This mainly includes brush cleanup. The Town of New Paltz will still be performing their brush [pickup service], but at a later date [beginning April 27] as a good alternative to burning.” The more expansive village cleanup has been postponed to a date uncertain.
“Fireworks pose an extremely dangerous problem,” the chief continued, “as hot ash from the explosion can carry for a long distance in the air. If the ash does not cool by the time it reaches the ground it may cause a spot fire, which could lead to a brush fire. With no leaves on the trees, the sunlight reaches the ground leaves, which will dry them out faster so no matter how recent a rain might have occurred it doesn’t take much to dry out. It’s particularly windy this time of year as well, allowing airborne ash to travel farther, and additionally fuel any potential fire with large wind-driven volume of oxygen.” That’s something people who enjoy the outdoors likely understand, he said: “Anyone who’s ever started a campfire knows to blow on the ignited kindling to create larger flames.”
The fire chief understands the difficulties of the season. “I understand we’re in semi-uncharted territory with this pandemic and everyone is trying their best to keep heads up,” he said. “Fireworks always put a smile on most people’s faces, but this time of year is extremely dangerous. Our emergency services, including the fire department, have their hands full with pandemic-related calls and directives. An unnecessary brush fire would only complicate and exhaust our already busy fire department trying to stay brave in this time of uncertainty.”