Legislature approves drilling fire suppression wells in Pine Barrens

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | A firefighter drags a hose during the April wildfires in Riverhead Town.

The Suffolk County Legislature approved a resolution to drill fire suppression wells in the Pine Barrens during their session Tuesday.

The resolution, which directs the county’s well-drilling unit to drill wells on county land capable of producing 400 gallons of water per minute, was sponsored by Legislator Ed Romaine after the April wildfires that claimed more than 1,000 acres of Pine Barrens.

“The Manorville area was hit by two large wildfires in April, one of which destroyed homes and displaced residents,” said Legislator Romaine. “The lack of water in the Pine Barrens continues to be a major concern. With little development and even fewer mains, water is a scarce resource. These wildfires clearly highlight the need for fire wells in this area.”

The resolution also authorizes the county to seek agreements with private homeowners and municipalities to drill well locations on their property for firefighters to use.

The plan to drill fire suppression wells would not harm the local ecosystem, environmental groups said, though they added that conducting more “controlled burns” more often would help prevent future fires from getting out of control.

The controlled burns, in addition to other steps such as fire breaks and timber and firewood harvesting, have proven effective in reducing the risk of brush fires, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper agreed, saying wells alone would only assist in putting them out once they’ve begun.

Mr. Amper said the county should take “proactive” steps to reduce wildfires by burning roughly 1,000 acres over the course of the year in smaller fires to prevent massive fires from swelling out of control.

“You have to work with Mother Nature or she’s going to fight with you and eventually she’s going to win,” he said.

County Executive Steve Bellone can now sign the legislature-approved resolution or veto it.

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