Fire is the Pine Bush’s Friend

On April 27, 1999 …

a small controlled burn conducted by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission got out of control. 65 acres of Pine Bush burned. The fire was intense enough to jump the four lanes of the New York State Thruway. No one was injured, no property was damaged.

For the Pine Bush, this was great! The Pine Bush needs fire to survive. The Pine Bush has burned for 10,000 years.

There is a great opportunity after this burn to view the burned areas. Most dramatic is that the burning away of under brush exposes the natural land forms of the Pine Bush. The beautiful contours of the sand dunes in the Pine Bush can now be seen. Here are photographs taken the next day by Save the Pine Bush volunteer, John Wolcott.

Fire Management in the Pine Bush, Jan./Feb. 91
Man-Made Pine Bush?? Harvey Alexander Tells All ,Jan./Feb. 92
Recent News-Controlled Burnings in Pine Bush a Success, Times Union, Nov. 13, 1991
Fire? What Fire? Pine Bush Better Than Ever – July/Aug 99

The Pine Bush is a fire dis-climax community. It must burn to survive. The dominant species, the pitch pine tree, is adapted to fire and cannot reproduce without it. Currently, the Pine Bush is the only place in New York State that one (well, scientists or people involved with Pine Bush preservation) can get a permit to set a fire. I know that sometimes the mention of controlled burns makes the residents of the Pine Bush a bit ansy. I can sympathize, I would not be delighted if someone said they were going to set a fire near my house. However, the Pine Bush will burn, whether people set controlled burns, or a wildfire starts by natural or other causes. I have seen both – a controlled burn and a natural wildfire. Personally, I would take the controlled burn any day. It was about as boring an event as I can remember. Flames were not even visible, the ground just turned black at a glacially slow pace. There seemed to be a million fire men hanging around, bored to tears. The controlled burn was strictly controlled; there was absolutely no danger to any people or any property. Also, controlled burns are not allowed within 75 feet of any structures or private property.

Controlled fire of the Pine Bush by the Albany Pine Bush Commission

On the other hand, I saw a natural wildfire in 1980. I will never forget my terror. My friend, John Wolcott, talked me into driving him out to the Pine Bush so he could take pictures of the event. All of the main roads to the Pine Bush were closed to traffic because of the smoke. Of course, John knows all of the back roads, and we managed to drive in pretty close to the City Preserve. And then John wanted to walk into the Preserve to get photos. So, against my better judgement, we walked into the City Preserve. At that point, the fire was north of us and the wind was blowing the thick, smothering smoke north away from us. John snapped away, while I anxiously watched the wind direction (people die in fires of smoke inhalation long before the fire arrives). As the wind began to change, I suggested that we leave. But, there seemed to be one more picture. And then we found a crazy high school student taking pictures too! We couldn’t leave him, so I kept trying to persuade everyone to leave. Eventually, just ahead of the deadly smoke, we ran out. No, thank you, I will take a controlled burn any day. Wildfires start when there is a build up of burnable material. Controlled burns can eliminate this build up of combustible organic material before it becomes dangerous. Ed.