Wildland/Urban Interface fire hits in Ulster County

July 12, 2012

On April 7th, a structure fire in the town of Wawarsing was reported to the Ulster County 911 center.  Burning of residential yard waste near a large unused resort building led to the structure itself igniting.  Sustained high winds and low relative humidities resulted in multiple spot fires in the area around the old resort compound.  Dozens of mutual aid fire departments from 4 counties were called to assist with the large structure fire and resulting wildland fire.  Additionally, DEC Forest Rangers, Ulster County Sheriff’s office, the New York State Police, and The Office of Fire Prevention and Control were involved in setting up a unified command structure to manage this rapidly growing wildland urban interface fire.

Spot fires grew very quickly in the tall dried grasses and leaf litter that surrounded the immediate area.  Those spot fires in turn burned uninterrupted into multiple structures across State Highway 52, eventually destroying a mostly abandoned bungalow colony, and threatening residences along two other town roads.  Incident personnel set up a command post at the Greenfield Park firehouse and quickly organized a growing number of resources.  Structural triage was performed, residences that were immediately threatened were identified, and homeowners were notified.  Evacuations took place from threatened residences.

Firefighters performed tasks around threatened residences that directly had an effect on those buildings ability to withstand the wildfire.  Moving combustible material from near the buildings, cutting flammable vegetation away from homes, cleaning leaf and pine needles debris from roofs and gutters, and closing any opening into the buildings are all small things that homeowners can do seasonally to protect their home from wildfire, but that take a long time for firefighters to perform during a wildland urban interface fire.

This wildland urban interface fire destroyed X buildings and homes, leaving 18 people without shelter.  Additionally, it damaged XX more structures either on the resort property itself or adjoining properties.  As in the Crescent Bow fire on Long Island, spot fires ocurred ½ mile away, threatening residential property that was not near the main wildland fire.

It is interesting to note that the activity that caused this wildfire, the burning of residential yardwatse, was prohibited at the time.  New York State currently does not allow residential burning of yard waste from March 15th through May 14th of every year.  This is the time of year when wildfires are most likely to occur and grow out of control due to dry, windy weather.