During the past year in my role as Firewise Advisor in the Northeast, I have learned that areas at risk in the wildland urban interface vary greatly from place to place. Along the Cape and on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts the wildfire threat consists of dense stands of pitch pine, scrub oak, and huckleberry, all of which grow in sandy soil. Fire apparatus called brush breakers, equipped with large V-shaped metal grates, are used to uproot small diameter trees and brush to allow firefighters to access the head of the fire. Fire departments in neighborhoods along the shore on Staten Island and Connecticut battle brush fires that occur in phragmites, an invasive grass, that can produce flame lengths over 70 feet.
I have also discovered that several wildland urban interface areas share a common wildfire threat. Extensive undeveloped tracts of pitch pines are located in New York, Long Island, and New Jersey. These fire-prone environments, referred to as pine barrens, are adapted to periodic fire. Research from pitch pine barrens across the Northeast shows that fire helps cycle nutrients bound up in the natural litter and debris on the forest floor, reduces the invasion of less desirable, fire-sensitive species and improves the health of the fire dependent plants. As development into these areas continues, firefighters have had been forced to quickly contain any fires that ignite to protect surrounding communities.
Due to the lack of fire, high fuel loads exist in these natural areas in the form of dry leaves, downed woody debris and highly flammable shrubs. Dry conditions, as we have recently witnessed throughout the Northeast this spring, have the potential to burn with greater intensity than fires would have historically, which could seriously impact not only forested areas but to adjacent homes as well.
The Shawangunk Ridge - NYhttp://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef016305fc508a970d-pi
The northern Shawangunk Ridge, located in New York, is home to the world’s best example of a globally rare, ridgetop dwarf pine barrens community. I am most familiar with this unique forest type, because it is here where I live and work. I have been employed by The Nature Conservancy for over a decade as Manager of Sam’s Point, a 5,000 acre preserve in Ulster County. I have developed a strong affinity for the dwarf pitch pine. These pitch pines, unlike the pine barrens on Long Island and in New Jersey that grow at sea level in sandy soil, manage to exist on bedrock. The dwarf pine ridge community at Sam’s Point, measuring 2,500 acres, is able to survive in a harsh environment, consisting of thin soil, extreme weather conditions and exposure to wind.http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef016766ee9d00970b-pihttp://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef016766f017cb970b-pi