Weathering Tomorrow: How Staten Island is fighting against the invasive plant feeding brush fires

Anthony Johnson Image
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Weathering Tomorrow: Stopping brush fire hazards on Staten Island
Anthony Johnson reports on brush fire hazards.

STATEN ISLAND (WABC) -- The beauty of the natural habitat holds a danger.

Phragmites, a tall wetland grass, happen to be a brush fire's best friend due to the fact that they burn quickly.

WEATHERING TOMORROWHow to mitigate wildfire risk: Expert-backed strategies to reduce loss

On the south shore of Staten Island, this invasive plant is everywhere.

"We only need to have another dry season or another dry year where we could have something like what happened in 2015 happen again," said New York City Councilman David Cook.

That year, a five-alarm wildfire needed more than 170 firefighters to contain.

Staten Island now has a program in place allowing homeowners to cut back phragmites on their property and reduce wildfire danger.

"As the climate change issues continue to evolve, we have to evolve with them," said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella.

The fall and spring are considered the major seasons for wildfires in our region.

Last April, the forest lit up in New Jersey as dry conditions from the lack of snow and rain led to an outbreak of brushfires threatening homes throughout the state.

On Staten Island, allowing homeowners to get a permit to cut back brush could reduce the risk.

"One good effect of the whole concept of climate change and what's happening is it's forcing everybody to evolve and open their eyes to things that need to be done," said Fossella.

According to our research, since 2020 a quarter of the homes built in the borough are in neighborhoods where more than half the properties are at a major risk for fire.

Looking ahead 30 years, one in seven homes nationally will be at major risk for wildfires.

"We're dealing with nature, we're working with nature," said Fossella. "We're listening to nature and we're taking steps necessary to prepare and to protect the people of Staten Island in this case."

Discover more Weathering Tomorrow stories here to learn more about the impact of climate change where you live.


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