UrbaNerd: Wildfires in New York State? Yes, We Have Them

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A wildfire at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

Josh O'Connor - USFWS

A wildfire at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

Spectacular images of the California wildfires, where 20 blazes have scorched 130,000 acres and led authorities to order thousands of people out of their homes, might obscure the fact that eight other states also have wildfires burning right now. So far this year, 5.9 million acres of the United States have burned, well above the average over the past decade.

The fires burning now are all out west, and that’s where the arguments over forest management and the impact of residential development on the fire cycle tend to focus. But wildfire is a reality in New York State as well, even in New York City. “The wetlands of western New York State and New York City frequently burn as weather conditions allow,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Hence DEC’s maintenance of a map of real-time fire risk across the state.

The scale of fire in New York is vastly smaller than that of the west: A current fire that you probably haven’t heard of south of Lake Minchumina in Alaska has burned more acres than New York State has seen go up in the past 20 years. Of course, there are more people in the Bronx west of the Bronx River than in Alaska, so the stakes are somewhat different. The charts below reflect the rise and fall of wildfire damage in the Empire State over the past 125 years.