Fire Danger High

On a recent evening drive on Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton, we noticed a woman in an imported sedan drop what appeared to be a cigarette butt out of her car window. The roadside grass is uncharacteristically brown for this time of year, thanks to an early dry spell. That last bit of a cigarette, had it been alight, had it rolled into the combustible weeds, could have touched off a blaze that might have threatened the nearby houses. Plus, it was littering.

From a bird’s-eye view, the vulnerability of the South Fork woods to fire becomes apparent. Building code limits on clearing in many places are such that houses are but dots amid a sea of trees. The wrong combination of an ignition point, a high wind, and dry, summer conditions could lead to a fire of devastating proportion.

The woods here are overdue for a leveling blaze. The last big brush fire in East Hampton Town was in 1986, when 2,500 acres in Hither Hills burned. That fire, though smaller, was not unlike the massive Pine Barrens fire of 1995, which claimed almost 7,000 acres. A nightmare scenario, many years ago, the story goes, is of a fire that broke out near Sag Harbor and worked its way to Stephen Hand’s Path in East Hampton. If that happened today, the scale of the devastation would be almost unimaginable.

Avoiding brush fires should be an individual effort, centering on care and common sense. They include not using fireworks or burning yard waste (which are illegal in New York State anyway), not tossing cigarettes onto the ground or roadway, and never parking vehicles on dry vegetation. Sparks from backyard or deck fire pits can be dangerous, too, and they should not be used during arid periods. 

Beach fire rules are posted in many locations. They require that outdoor fires be at least 50 feet from dune vegetation, confined to a metal container, and that a large bucket of water be kept at the ready nearby. Officials warn that a fire must never be left unattended and must be extinguished with water.

Firefighters and other emergency service personnel are busy enough at this time of year. Let’s not add to their workload with blazes that could be avoided.