Fire on ridge burns 4.6 acres of Mohonk Preserve

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze that was burning in a difficult-to-reach part of the Mohonk Preserve, west of Cragswood Road in New Paltz. (Photos courtesy of the New Paltz Fire Department)

State forest rangers assess how contained the fire is.

The fire burning last week on the ridge in the Mohonk Preserve for two and a half days, now officially named the “Cragswood Road fire” by state forest rangers, was fully under control on Saturday, August 29. “After fighting steep treacherous terrain, heat, rain, bees, rattlesnakes, limited visibility, fatigue and most of all, the fire, we can now say that this fire is 100 percent  contained,” New Paltz fire chief Cory Wirthmann said in an update on Saturday. While 4.6 acres have been burned and an unknown number of trees and animals have perished, no loss of human life or property was reported.

“The amount of coordination and skill shown by all the agencies is what made this fire containment happen swiftly and without issue,” Wirthmann reported. He and other members of the fire department wanted “to thank all parties involved in making this fire event a success in limiting the amount of spread which allowed us to preserve countless more acres from potentially perishing.” It was a complex assignment. Members of 24 different fire companies and other agencies were involved.  Wirthmann praised their ability to coordinate and work together during difficult conditions.

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Reports of smoke

Chief  Wirthmann had checked out reports of smoke on the ridge that were received just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, August 26. He determined that the source was somewhere west of Cragswood Road, which was closed but for local residents. The Spring Farm trailhead was also closed.

It took a lot of cooperation even to figure out the best way to access the area. Town highway and village public works employees, county emergency service personnel, rangers from the Mohonk Preserve and firefighters from Tillson and New Paltz worked to find a place to begin scouting the location and a drone was needed to pinpoint the blaze. Five acres of the preserve along the ridge was determined to be afire, and additional support was called in. State forest rangers and environmental protection officers, state troopers in helicopters and firefighters from Highland, Gardiner and Modena all responded. Representatives from the Preserve and nearby Mohonk Mountain House were also involved in the response.

Fire lines were cut and hoses were sent up the vertical ridge to fight the fire.

Weathering the storms

Thunderstorms and a tornado warning caused firefighters to call off their efforts to put out the fire on the Shawangunk Ridge Thursday, but it apparently wasn’t enough to send the fire itself packing.

During Friday’s effort, fire lines were cut and hoses were sent up the vertical ridge. Wirthmann said that this “aggressive plan” was “executed without fail” by the volunteers and professionals on site. The chief praised the members of the various agencies for having “all worked seamlessly together in the field.” These include volunteer firefighters from New Paltz and five other departments, as well as state and preserve forest rangers, state police and county emergency service workers.

Chief Wirthmann reported around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, August 28 that conditions were unsafe to continue fighting the fire — referencing the nearest road to the remote section of the Mohonk Preserve that’s on fire — to continue overnight. However, significant progress was made during the day, and the fire was 70 percent contained when emergency workers went to seek shelter.

State forest rangers headed back to the Shawangunk Ridge on August 29, and Wirthmann reported later that day that the fire was completely contained.

According to Wirthmann, the origin of the fire is still under investigation.