Long Island Official: Budget Cutbacks Imperil Woodlands, More “Prescribed Burns” Needed

A town supervisor says struggling municipalities have cut spending on controlled burns

A Long Island official says budget cutbacks of "prescribed burns" have helped imperil thousands of acres of woodlands during brush fires in recent days.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko is calling for a "six-figure" reinvestment in the program.

Lesko says forestry experts advise conducting burns of underbrush as a way to prevent widespread damage from uncontrolled forest fires.

He says municipalities struggling with tight budgets have cut spending on the burns. He says that trend needs to be reversed.

"We should be doing everything possible to try and contain and control these types of fires," Lesko told NBC New York.

Last week, more than 1,000 acres of Long Island Pine Barrens were charred, and buildings were destroyed.

A second fire on Tuesday damaged more than 100 acres and imperiled hundreds of nearby homes. A day care center and 300 homes were evacuated before the blaze was contained, just south of the Long Island Expressway near exit 69.

Drought conditions, along with strong winds, have created hazardous conditions across the metropolitan region.

The closest location to the burned areas that keeps rainfall data is Islip MacArthur Airport, about 20 miles away. As of Tuesday morning, the airport was 8.5 inches below normal rainfall for 2012.

The regional director of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation defended its burn program on Wednesday.

"We did do prescribed burns on Long Island in the month of March and we are committed to using that as one of the tools to limit fire danger," said Peter Scully.

Greg Cergol contributed to this story

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