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Rangers busy with fires, rescues, holiday patrols

A state forest ranger fights one of several wildfires in the Adirondacks over Memorial Day weekend. (Photo provided by DEC)

Forest rangers with the state Department of Environmental Conservation were among the first responders who had their hands full with firefighting this past week in and around the Adirondack Park. Plus, rangers had multiple wilderness search-and-rescue missions to deal with.

Rangers remained busy through the Memorial Day holiday weekend dealing with several wildfires in Regions 5 and 6. A cold, dry spring delayed green-up of vegetation throughout much of the Adirondacks, resulting in nine wildfires. These fires, burning approximately 40 acres, ranged in size from less than an acre to more than 20 acres. A number of these fires were caused from downed power lines and unattended campfires. Two of the fires remain under investigation.

Busy Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day holiday weekend brought an influx of visitors to the Adirondacks. In anticipation of this increase, forest rangers worked with members of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, Division of Law Enforcement and Public Outreach, as well as State Police, local officials and representatives from the state Department of Transportation to develop a strategic plan. The result was increased public outreach, real-time messaging provided by roadside message boards and strict enforcement of parking at busy trailheads, particularly in the High Peaks and Shelving Rock areas. With significant support from state troopers, the busy state Route 73 corridor in the High Peaks and the Shelving Rock area were heavily patrolled and closely monitored. Forest rangers and assistant forest rangers were present at trailheads and on trails to provide education and information regarding social distancing and backcountry safety.

A state forest ranger fights one of several wildfires in the Adirondacks over Memorial Day weekend. (Photo provided by DEC)

A total of 45 tickets were issued for traffic infractions. As the Adirondacks continue to see increased spring visitation numbers, rangers will continue to work with multiple DEC divisions and public and private partners to manage usage at popular destinations.

Wildfire in Brasher

On May 18 at 2:56 p.m., DEC Region 6 forest rangers overheard a call by St. Lawrence County 911 about a 5- to 6-acre fire off Murray Road in the town of Brasher.

Rangers assisted 10 area fire departments using ATV firefighting apparatus and hand tools. A ranger drone mapped the fire at 14 acres as the fire spread through dry vegetation in swamps and wooded areas. Low humidity and high temperatures, before the leaf growth, helped to spread this fire caused by the landowner burning brush.

Rescue from Azure Mountain

On May 18 at 5:43 p.m., Franklin County 911 transferred a call to DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch from two hikers lost on Azure Mountain in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest in the town of Waverly. The 18-year-old female and 19-year-old male from Massena went off trail on the way up the mountain and failed to find the trail again on the way back down.

Forest Ranger Scott Sabo responded to the trailhead off Blue Mountain Road. Coordinates obtained through 911 placed the hikers about 0.6 mile north of the trailhead and 0.5 mile from Blue Mountain Road. At 7:12 p.m., Sabo located the lost hikers and escorted them back to the trailhead to their vehicle.

Hurt hiker in Wilmington

On May 21 at 3:20 p.m., Essex County 911 transferred a call to DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch from two hikers on the Flume Knob Trail in the Wilmington Wild Forest in the town of Wilmington. The hikers were requesting assistance because one of the pair had a lower leg injury. While descending the mountain, a 56-year-old woman from National Park, New Jersey, made an incorrect step, injuring her leg, and was unable to put any weight on it. Essex County 911 provided coordinates that placed the hikers near the trail for Bear Den Mountain, slightly off course from the trailhead.

Rangers James Giglinto, Benjamin Baldwin and Scott Sabo responded to assist, along with the Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. At 4:35 p.m., Giglinto was with the injured hiker. He splinted her leg and they began to slowly start walking back out to the trailhead at Whiteface Mountain. At 5:21 p.m., the hiker and rangers were back at the trailhead, and the hiker was transported to a local hospital for further medical treatment.

Hiker lost, found on Giant

On May 24 at 6:34 p.m., DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a female hiker who lost the trail from the Giant Washbowl back to the Roaring Brook trailhead in the town of Keene. Per Forest Ranger Lt. Chris Kostoss, the hiker was asked to call 911 for her coordinates. Essex County 911 provided three sets of coordinates as Dispatch attempted to assist the hiker back to the trail using her compass and the coordinates provided. After those attempts failed, Forest Ranger James Giglinto responded to the Roaring Brook trailhead to assist.

The 47-year-old hiker from Plattsburgh was located at 8:53 p.m. and was back to the trailhead and out of the woods by 9:45 p.m.

Brush burning goes wild in Harrisville

On May 24, DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from St. Lawrence County 911 asking for forest ranger assistance for a wildland fire on Jayville Road in the town of Harrisville, Lewis County. A landowner burning brush during low humidity and high heat caused the fire.

The fire was held to 1.2 acres thanks to the immediate response by five local fire departments. Forest rangers used ATV fire apparatus to mop up the fire and put out hot spots. The fire was out by the afternoon of May 25.

Campfire safety advice

The DEC offers these fire safety tips while camping:

¯ Use existing campfire rings when possible.

¯ Build campfires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves. Pile any extra wood away from the fire.

¯ Campfires must be less than three feet in height and four feet in diameter. Only charcoal or untreated wood can be used as fuel. A good bed of coals or a small fire surrounded by rocks gives plenty of heat. Scrape away litter, duff, and any burnable material within a 10-foot diameter circle. This will keep the campfire from spreading.

¯ Be sure your match is out. Hold it until it is cold.

¯ Never leave a campfire unattended. Even a small breeze could cause the fire to spread quickly.

¯ Drown the fire with water. Make sure all embers, coals, and sticks are wet. Move rocks as there may be burning embers underneath.

¯ Stir the remains, add more water, and stir again. If you do not have water use dirt. Do not bury your coals as they can smolder and break out.

¯ Consider using a small stove for cooking in remote areas versus making a campfire.

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