Controlled fires, brush clearing recommended in Flanders

John Pavacic, the Pine Barrens executive director, gave a presentation Monday night. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
John Pavacic, the executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, gave a presentation Monday night. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A proposal to scale back underbrush and tree branches, which threaten wildfires to grow even wilder, is scheduled to begin later this year in areas west of Pleasure Drive in Flanders. 

But some of the areas identified as needing this work won’t be included because of funding shortages, according to John Pavacic, the executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, who gave a presentation on the program at Monday’s meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

“Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to go back to those areas,” Mr. Pavacic said.

Mr. Pavacic said the work is expected to begin in November or December, with prescribed burns starting next April, weather permitting.

The plan calls for prescribed burns and/or thinning of flammable pitch pines, removing lower branches than can spread fires, and mowing and mulching underbrush in an area immediately west of Brookhaven Avenue and south of Anchor Street and adjacent side streets.

The plan says this type of work is also needed just west of Pleasure Drive, but defers that work on the southern half of the road due to lack of funding.

The Pine Barrens Commission, working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the county Parks department, has come up with a proposed “Wildfire Mitigation and Ecological Enhancement Project” for the areas west of Pleasure Drive and Brookhaven Avenue in Flanders, which are surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped woodland owned by the state or county, as well as hundreds of adjacent residences.

“There’s a vast amount of area that could potentially sustain a wildfire, so we want to create a buffer adjacent to these developed residential areas,” Mr. Pavacic said.

A consulting firm hired by the commission created the proposal. The cost of the project is about $250,000, Mr. Pavacic said.

Another goal of the project is to enhance the habitat in these areas, he said, since these lands were purchased for open space preservation.

“The pine barrens is a fire-dependent ecosystem,” he said.

Flanders Fire Chief Joe Petit said he thinks the area on Pleasure Drive is of greater concern, and suggested that the plan take into account the accessibility for fire trucks to reach areas.

“There’s a lot of homes there,” he said. “All down Brookhaven Avenue, I can see from the road to the property line. I can protect the houses there. I need a lot of fire trucks, but I can do a pretty good job. Pleasure Drive? You have 700-foot driveways before you can even see the woods.”

Chief Petit also said he feels the plan should involve removing dead trees that block the path of a firetruck.

“If we could just clear those trails, we could get our trucks in there,” he said. “Those big oaks are a hazard to our trucks. They are slowing our response time and they are beating up our trucks.”

Flanders resident Ron Fisher asked if Chief Petit had been consulted for the recommendations in the Pine Barrens proposal. Mr. Pavacic said he was not, and said there are other factors that went into the recommendations, such as protecting open space.

“We have to meet the legal mandate of making sure we are protecting the resources for which these lands were first bought,” he said. “So the first thing that was done by the experts that we hired was looking at those resources first.”

Mr. Fisher said: “I think the chief is looking out for the homes and the people of Flanders. I think that’s more important for us who live in those buffer areas.”

Mr. Pavacic said another factor was the type of trees in each area, and whether they are more flammable trees, such as pitch pines.

The area east of Brookhaven Avenue is considered a “home ignition zone” where homes are considered more vulnerable, according to the proposal.

Sandy Adams, who lives in River Woods mobile home park in Riverside, suggested that the woods adjacent to that park should be part of a wildfire mitigation plan in the future, because it’s surrounded by parkland and homeless people often start fires in the woods.

“If that goes up, we’re in trouble, too,” she said.

Mr. Pavacic said the state Forest Rangers patrol that area, but they only have four full-time rangers and one captain on Long Island.

A community forum on the wildfire mitigation plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Crohan Community Center in Flanders, Mr. Pavacic said.

[email protected]