Wildfires once burned freely, occasionally for days or weeks, over thousands of acres extending from the Hempstead Plains in Nassau County to the Central Pine Barrens of Southampton. Such extensive conflagrations no longer occur, partly because the Central Pine Barrens are less than the original estimated 250,000 acres, with the remaining acres now crisscrossed by numerous roads and clearings that serve as effective firebreaks, and partly due to heightened suppression and prevention activities. Most of these fires are single day events kept to a minimal size due to early detection and aggressive suppression. However, even small fires can pose an acute hazard in and adjacent to the Central Pine Barrens. The threat to human lives and property justifies the suppression and control of these wildfires. Unplanned ignitions and resulting wildfires are not a substitute for the ecological process that fire plays in this ecosystem and are unacceptable from a public safety, ecological, and management standpoint. The expenses and risks to firefighting personnel are also unacceptable. Aggressive fire suppression must remain an essential cornerstone of the pine barrens fires under these conditions.
Wildfires can be suppressed using a variety of strategies including confinement, containment, and control. These strategies utilize the tactics of both direct and indirect attack. Control strategies with direct attack tactics and heavy reliance upon mechanized equipment are the current means used by most fire departments in suppressing wildfires in the Central Pine Barrens. Most departments within the Central Pine Barrens use the Incident Command System (ICS) with heavy dependence upon mutual aid assistance. The mutual aid response is coordinated through the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (SC FRES) Department. This plan realizes the success that this well established structure has for suppressing wildfire within the Central Pine Barrens.
There has been an ecological cost to the way in which wildfires have been suppressed by the direct attack method. Although almost every area of the Central Pine Barrens is crisscrossed with firebreaks and old woods roads, these are not always used during new fires. Subsequently, new firelines may be created which may cause long term problems, including the introduction of new roads. Recovery of vegetation within these firebreaks is subsequently prevented due to the new firebreaks becoming unofficial roads for vehicle use by trespassers. These temporary firebreaks may persist for many years, and may become access points for dumping or the source of new interior roads. Currently, no one has responsibility to carry out rehabilitation of these new inroads. Further, there are limited resources to patrol these roads or to restore them.
Modified suppression strategies that use confinement and containment methods with indirect attack should be considered. This is especially true where there are already existing fire or woods roads. Full suppression should remain the standard for areas where wildland and developed areas meet and human life and property are in immediate danger. However, many areas of the Central Pine Barrens are relatively remote, and wildfire suppression could take place using alternative methods based on fire location, weather conditions, resource availability, and safety considerations.
While there may be an increase in personnel time when using modified suppression strategies, this can be offset by the reduction in equipment expenditures, especially those outlays caused by equipment damage. The modified suppression tactics with minimum impact strategies will also reduce the firefighters' exposure to risk simultaneously reducing the damage to the land resource. While this may lengthen the duration of the wildfire event and may increase overall acreage involved, the total number of personnel required at any one time is reduced.
An Escaped Fire Situation Analysis (EFSA) completed for each extended attack fire should be considered to evaluate the feasibility of the appropriate suppression response. The EFSA should be completed in consultation with the landowner. Landowning agencies may assign a resource advisor for any fire to work within the Incident Command System and directly with the Incident Commander (IC) in developing suppression strategies and tactics. Pre-fire planning will be an important part of directing the appropriate suppression response due to the short duration of most fire events in the Central Pine Barrens. Since Long Island does not have a state fire district, state funds are not available to local fire departments for wildfire suppression activities. Additional issues that need to be addressed include prevention programs and establishment of a standard system of record keeping for fire events.
Total fire suppression would result in continued, unchecked fuel build-up, which increases the risk of catastrophic fires outside the natural variability of this fire regime. Experience elsewhere in the country has shown there is a point of negative return from total suppression. At that point, even heavy staffing is unable to suppress one hundred percent of the fires. Eventually, events and conditions (i.e., heavy fuel loadings, multiple ignitions, weather events with low relative humidity, strong winds, and high temperatures) overburden suppression capabilities, resulting in conflagrations or multiple fires beyond the control of resources. A solution for this lies in the development of a prescribed burning program. A detailed discussion of a prescribed fire program is presented in Chapter 11.
This Fire Management Plan provides a comprehensive evaluation of the issues associated with wildfires in the Central Pine Barrens. Each chapter of this document details various components associated with the overall successful management of fire in the Central Pine Barrens from prevention, suppression, and ecological standpoints.