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Massive brush fire rages on Long Island; residents, horses flee

April 10, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Flames jump a roadway in Suffolk County, N.Y., on Monday as a roaring brush fire threatened homes and commercial buildings on Long Island. The fire was still burning Tuesday.
Flames jump a roadway in Suffolk County, N.Y., on Monday as a roaring brush… (Robert Garofalo/AP )

NEW YORK -- A massive brush fire driven by high winds and low humidity was burning out of control on Long Island east of New York City on Tuesday. Two more fires broke out in New Jersey, but firefighters managed to contain a third one that erupted at a landfill on Staten Island.

The blazes broke out Monday as winds gusted at more than 40 mph across New York, New Jersey and the rest of the region. The winds, combined with low humidity and extra-dry conditions caused by a nearly snow-free winter, fed the flames, which forced some evacuations, closed roads and destroyed at least two homes.

The lost homes were in Manorville, on Long Island, the scene of the worst blaze. "This fire is not under control," Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, told the local Fox affiliate early Tuesday. He said winds died down overnight, preventing the roughly 1,000-acre fire from spreading farther. "Once the wind kicks back up, it's unpredictable," he said.

The fire was the worst on Long Island since the mid-1990s, Bellone said, noting that three firefighters had been injured so far fighting it.

Some residents had been evacuated from the city of Riverhead, N.Y. Others evacuated on their own, many from rural areas dotted with stables. Calls went out among residents for extra trailers to transport horses, and the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it would accept some pets from people forced to evacuate their homes.

"It's pretty much all farms out here," Oscar Garcia told the local Patch news site, which offered regular updates on the blaze. Garcia, who lives on a farm in Manorville, said he had moved 24 horses from the farm.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the National Guard was on standby to help firefighters in Suffolk County. "The National Guard has helicopter and other air-based fire suppression equipment deployed in the area and ready to be activated if needed," he said in a statement.

Elsewhere, a major fire that snarled traffic in the New York City borough of Staten Island on Monday night was under control early Tuesday. Fire officials said the blaze, which began at a landfill, probably was the result of spontaneous combustion resulting from wind and extra-dry conditions. It started under a huge compost pile.

More than 1,000 acres burned across New Jersey, and at least one of them in Burlington County continued to burn at dawn Tuesday.

"It looked like hell," Constatin Alimonos, a vineyard owner near that fire, told the Star-Ledger.  "When I got up this morning it looked really horrible, looked like it was coming toward us, but fortunately it stopped."

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