Geddes, N.Y. — Volunteer firefighters spent five hours Monday afternoon battling a brush fire on Interstate 690 West, along the west shore of Onondaga Lake.
This was one of several outdoor brush fires reported Monday — in the midst of a statewide burn ban.
Lakeside Fire Chief Manny Falcone said he isn’t sure how the brush fire started but he warned Central New Yorkers against tossing cigarettes out car windows and asked residents to follow state and local laws prohibiting outdoor burning.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issues a ban on outdoor burning every spring because all the vegetation from the wintertime is dead and dry — and easily burns, said Jerry Payne, director of fire for Onondaga County Emergency Management.
“People think because there’s rain and snow melt and it seems like it’s muddy that this wouldn’t be an issue,” Payne said. “But it is. All the vegetation above the ground easily burns because it’s dead and dry. This is the highest risk for fire to spread.”
Since April 1, there has been 0.13 inches of rain in Syracuse. That’s 0.43 less than normal.
On Monday, the air was very dry, with dewpoints in the 20s and about 26% relative humidity, according to the National Weather Service in Binghamton.
“With dew points in the 20s along with somewhat breezy conditions, a few isolated small brush fires could occur,” the weather service warned in its daily briefing. “The limiting factor is the lack of high enough winds.”
This is peak fire season in New York, before the leaves are on the plants.
While several small brush fires have been called in and put out quickly, at least two in the last two weeks have taken more time, more volunteers and more equipment to put out, according to Onondaga County fire officials.
On March 26, Onondaga County sheriff’s Air-1 helicopter was called in to help firefighters extinguish several brush fires on the Onondaga Nation. The helicopter carried water, then dropped that water onto the fires.
On Monday, Lakeside, Baldwinsville, Liverpool, Lysander and Solvay firefighters worked together to try to control smoldering flames on the side of I-690 West as they shot some 35 feet into the air, catching trees on fire, Falcone said.
“(Firefighters) were at least 200 feet into the muck — in knee-deep mud,” Falcone said.
“Because the fire was tall, it gets into the top of the trees and inside the trees, where it’s dry,” he said.
To stop the fire from continuing to spread, firefighters decided to cut down three trees — a 50-foot-tall tree and two 30-foot-tall trees.
In the distance, they could see people jogging and riding bikes along the park trail. No one was in danger and no one was hurt, but firefighters knew they had to stop the fire from spreading, the chief said.
Firefighters had to close part of I-690 West while they battled the brush fire Monday. They cleared the scene around 5 p.m., about 5 1/2 hours after they arrived.
“We’re putting thousands and thousands of dollars of equipment on the road,” he said. “Just be careful and be aware of what you’re doing. If you’re unsure (on whether it’s ok to burn something), call your local code enforcement officer or your local fire chief.”
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