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Experts: Brush Fires Necessary For Environment On Long Island

MANORVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- With large wildfires scorching the landscape and darkening the sky over parts of Long Island this month, scientists said it's a recurring problem and residents will have to get used to them.

"This is a fire-dependent ecosystem. It has to burn to survive," said Richard Amper of the L.I. Pine Barens Society.

Fire ripped through 1,100 acres of Long Island pine barren, damaging homes and businesses even as it cleared away years of accumulated forest ground clutter.

However, in some ways, we were the victims of our own firefighting success. The blaze wouldn't have been as damaging if we hadn't been as effective at extinguishing previous fires, experts told CBS 2's Lou Young.

"Most of the woods here haven't burned for 60 years and that is why it was so intense," Amper said.

Asked if we can expect more of the same, "we are certain of it," he said.

Forestry scientists said it's best to burn sections of the landscape on purpose before a wildfire can sweep through, but after decades of neglect, more controlled burn that what is currently done is necessary.

"It ranges from three to five burns a year with a total of about 100 acres a year," said Bill Fonda of the New York State DEC.

Conservationists argue that if the state increases the burns by a factor of 10, they might be getting somewhere - a hard sell in cash-strapped Albany.

"It's difficult, it's complicated and it's expensive, these field treatments, but it's like an insurance policy. It could be more expensive if you have a wildfire," said Marilyn Jordan of the Nature Conservancy.

In dry, windy conditions, it is only a matter of time.

The biggest wildfire in New York State history took place on Long Island in 1995. It scorched 6,000 acres before it was brought under control.

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