Fueling the Fire: Is the Hudson Valley ready to burn?

If there's one natural disaster New Yorkers don't think about too much, it's forest fires.

But just 20 months ago, a raging fire burned acres of land in Blauvelt State Park in Rockland County. Sheriffs say the fire started at a popular hangout spot for teenagers called Tappan Zee Rock. The fire scorched some 400 acres of the park, but was pushed by cooler November winds, causing it to burn more slowly.

Luckily, no houses were caught up in the blaze, but experts say if we keep doing what we're doing when it comes to forest management, eventually it will take more than luck to save us.

About a month ago in Ulster County, a stubborn wildfire burned more than 2,000 acres of the Shawangunk Ridge State Forest. At least 50 families had to be evacuated.

Gabe Chapin, a forest ecologist for the Nature Conservancy, says it's his job to monitor fire risk of state forests. It's a tricky task because there's something most people don't realize - that most forests need to burn in order thrive and remain healthy.

Forest fires are also necessary at times, since fuel that accumulates on the forest floor can cause fires to burn hotter and more severely than normal. Chapin says he uses what is called "prescribed burns" to eliminate the excess fuel. The burns are performed on cool, calm days when there is little risk of the fire spreading.

According to Chapin, a devastating wildfire is unlikely at this time, although a lack of rain this summer has caused the Hudson Valley to be listed as abnormally dry. He says an extended period of hot, dry weather combined with one careless person on a windy day could cause a disaster.

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