I know the woman who set fire to the Gunks in 2009.
Actually, it was a prescribed burn in a small section of forest along Undercliff Road, just east of the famous Trapps Bridge rock climbing area. The fire was set by the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Project which includes the Nature Conservancy, the Mohonk Preserve and Friends of the Shawangunks. Its purpose was to help reduce the fuel load of the woods, kill invasive species, and promote the biodiversity that natural fires stimulate. The more dead wood and leaves on the floor or a forest, the higher it's fuel load and risk of a serious fire.
I first learned about this burn-off on a long day hike along Undercliff Road to observe the rock climbers there. This is one of my favorite areas to walk in the Gunks and I make a point to come here every time we visit the area.
As I was walking through the woods, I came across an area of forest that looked like it had been raked clear of its leaves and it sparked my curiosity, no pun intended.
I'd been walking down a gravel road, and the woods on the other side of it looked normal for this area.
As I continued down the road, I encountered more evidence of a recent fire. But I couldn't figure out why the base of the forest had burned, but not the over story trees. It just wasn't making any sense.
I asked my friend about it later the evening over drinks and she explained the mystery to me.
The Gunks has been under active fire suppression management for over 50 years, and the resulting fuel load buildup has increased the risk of an unusually severe, high-intensity fire that could irreparably damage the local ecosystem and wipe out important species.
Limited, prescribed burns are more like the natural wildfires that used to occur before fire suppression management of the region began. By simulating these natural fires with lower intensity prescribed burns, the beneficial effects of fire can be used to reinvigorate native species that are already adapted to fire and quell intrusive plants, shrubs, and trees.