Friday, October 7, 2022

National Guard, Canadian Firefighters Descend on Minnewaska Wildfires

Firefighters begin entering the woods where over 150 acres are burning on the Shawangunk Ridge in the Minnewaska State Park. (Video: White Lake FD)
Black Hawk helicopters from the Army National Guard and Huey helicopters from the New York State Police battle wildfires in Minnewaska State Park. (Video: NYSP)

The National Guard and Canadian firefighters will descend on the Shawangunk mountain range to join a large-scale response for three wildfires that are now burning out of control. State Forest Rangers are leading the incident which involves multiple agencies from state and local levels, as well as fire departments from three counties. Over 150 acres remain burning.

A group of 20 Canadian firefighters from Quebec are set to arrive on Thursday. Their help was secured through the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact, which was established in the 1940s to provide a joint effort in fighting fires beyond local capabilities. The New York Army and Air National Guards, along with numerous other resources, will also be deployed.

The Shawangunk fire complex consists of three wildfires. The Napanoch Point fire in Minnewaska State Park Preserve started over the weekend as a result of a suspected lightning strike and is 130 to 150 acres. A smaller fire approximately two miles east of the Napanoch Point fire, named Stony Kill, was detected on Monday and is approximately 0.68 acres. The Wurtsboro fire in the Town of Mamakating also started over the weekend and is approximately 70 acres. The incident is being commanded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers in cooperation with Ulster County. The response is being led from an incident command post in Napanoch.

Two Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with three-person crews, capable of dropping 600 gallons of water at a time, have begun aerial operations. Each of the choppers have dumped 12 buckets of water every hour, totaling 24,600 gallons since being deployed.

The New York State Police Aviation Unit has been fighting the fire with Huey helicopters since Sunday and dropped approximately 120 to 180 buckets containing 300 gallons of water per day. “Our Aviation Unit continues to coordinate with other state and local agencies on the ground to provide air support to help contain the fires, explained State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen. “Our pilots have specialized training to fight wildfires and will continue to fly water drop missions as needed until the fires are under control.”

In addition to the aerial operations, a contingent of five firefighters from the Air National Guard have been deployed. “Members of our New York National Guard conduct training and readied ourselves for potential firefighting support to our first responders,” Major General Raymond Shields, the Adjutant General for New York, noted. “Our military training and capabilities lend themselves for missions such as this and we look towards a quick and safe containment of these fires.”

The latest round of help from the National Guard and Canadian firefighters will assist more than 200 wildland firefighters and volunteers already battling the fire. They include Rangers, local fire response resources, and staff from the DEC; Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services; New York State Fire; New York State Police; and multiple local law enforcement agencies.

The New York State Incident Management Team and several emergency communications experts have been dispatched to provide further support. The New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control activated the State’s Fire Mobilization and Mutual Aid Plan and Fire Operations Center.

“As wildfires continue to rage through Minnewaska State Park, I urge every New Yorker to take sensible precautions to keep themselves and their families safe,” Governor Kathy Hochul said. “I thank all of our brave first responders, partner agencies and neighbors who are working around the clock to protect our communities.”

DEC Forest Rangers and staff volunteers will soon be working to put a contingency fire line in place near Berme Road in Wawarsing. The intention is to protect homes in the area. No residences have been impacted so far.

Minnewaska State Park remains closed until further notice. New York’s Hudson Valley and Catskill regions remain at high fire danger risk. Westerly winds are expected to gust to 20 mph today, which could worsen the fire spread.

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