Grass Fire 1

FILE - In this April 2018 photo, Fleming firefighters work behind the rising heat to extinguish a large grass fire along Dietrich Road.

A brush burning ban will be in effect beginning Saturday, March 16, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Tuesday. 

The prohibition, which expires May 14, is due to the high risk of wildfires during early spring. The DEC explained that open burning of debris is the leading cause of spring wildfires in New York. 

"While many people associate wildfires with the western United States, the start of spring weather and the potential for dry conditions increases the risk for wildfires in New York," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "New York prohibits residential burning during the coming high-risk season to reduce wildfires and protect people, property and natural resources." 

The DEC imposed limits on open burning in 2009 to prevent wildfires, according to a news release. For most of the year, residential brush fires are permitted. 

There were several wildfires reported in upstate New York last year. A grass fire in Cayuga County was extinguished by multiple fire departments. The blaze began when a man attempted to burn a piece of furniture in a fire pit.

In May 2015, a brush fire was reported in the town of Aurelius. The cause of the fire was likely a spark from a passing train.  

While the ban is in effect, residents may use charcoal or untreated wood for campfires. However, the state DEC advises to not leave fires unattended. 

Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round, according to the DEC. 

A violation of the brush burning ban could result in civil and criminal charges. A first-time offender could face a fine of at least $500. 

Violations can be reported by calling the DEC at (800) 847-7332 or by filling out an online form at dec.ny.gov/regulations/67751.html

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.