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Apr 9, 2012 5:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Local Firefighters Rush To Help In Brookhaven Brush Fire

Apr 11, 2012 1:12 PM

Firefighting crews from throughout the East End were pressed into service to help battle creeping brush fires that swept across hundreds of acres of pine barrens and other forested areas in Brookhaven Town on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, sending billows of smoke into the sky that were visible on the East End and offered grim reminders of the 1995 “Sunrise Wildfire.”

Driven eastward by northwesterly winds from the edges of the sprawling Brookhaven National Laboratory property, where the fire started, the flames toasted more than 1,000 acres of wild brushlands by Tuesday afternoon, and was still burning. With winds gusting more than 30 mph on Monday afternoon, the fire spread quickly, and Suffolk County emergency services coordinators called in help from nearly every department in Suffolk County, especially those that own brush trucks—specialized vehicles outfitted to bust through dense thickets and woods that regular fire trucks cannot access.

The East End’s departments all have the burly brush trucks and quickly sprang into action. Crews from nearly every local department responded to the county staging area in Yaphank. Those departments that didn’t go west were ordered to stand by, ready to respond to the heightened fire threat locally. Monday was a “red flag” fire warning day, the highest level of concern for the outbreak of brush fires, thanks to the high winds and lack of rain in recent weeks.

“This fire is pretty big,” North Sea Fire Department Chief Joe Ambrose said on Tuesday morning. “They did a hell of a job last night—I think maybe one house might’ve gotten burnt.”

Southampton Fire Chief Chip Pierson said that good coordination and teamwork between the more than 30 departments that sent crews to the fire from around Suffolk County helped keep the fire in control, even as it continued to spread. Teams of brush trucks from as many as six different departments would enter a wooded area together, clearing their own paths through the trees, to attack areas of the fire, Mr. Pierson said.

“That’s how you go into the woods, you stay together—there were some large bodies of fire in there,” he said. “We run 1,000 gallons of water in our truck, so that gets you about 20 minutes of firefighting, then you have to go out and refill and go back in. There’s a lot of moving in and out, so coordination is very important.”

The county coordinator for the division of brush trucks that Southampton’s crews were in was Mr. Pierson’s predecessor, former chief Buddy Wines.

Three firefighters from the Manorville Fire Department were hospitalized, one with first- and second-degree burns to his face and hands, after the fire suddenly spread very rapidly and engulfed their lone brush truck early on Monday afternoon.

As of Wednesday morning, county coordinators declared the fire to be completely extinguished, having burned more than 1,000 acres in Manorville and Ridge.

The Southampton Fire Department sent 20 firefighters to the scene of the fire on Monday. Many other departments sent their crews in two shifts to relieve those firefighters who had been battling the blaze for hours.

“We sent a brush truck and a tanker, 11 guys in the first shift at [3:50 p.m.] and, at about 8:15, I called for another 11 guys to be sent up to relieve the first group,” East Hampton Fire Department Chief Ray Harden said. The East Hampton fire crews were accompanied by the brush truck and tanker crews from the Amagansett, Springs and Bridgehampton fire departments as well, Chief Harden said.

“First, they sent us up to the Bayport area, but that fire was out when we arrived, so they sent us back to Yaphank, and then we were sent to work along the railroad tracks where the brush fire was advancing,” he said. “There were six brush trucks—we all went in together and knocked it down really well.”

Quogue, East Moriches, Hampton Bays, Southampton and North Sea also sent brush trucks to fight the fire.

“It was a fabulous job. The guys and gals did a fabulous job considering how tough it was,” said Quogue Fire Chief Timothy Shea.

The fire, which sent a thin veil of smoke blowing over areas as far east as Sagaponack and left a distinct scent of smoke in the air across even much of East Hampton Town on Monday, reminded many of the firefighters of the 1995 inferno that destroyed thousands of acres of pine barrens. That fire was far more involved and raged entirely out of control for days, with firefighters largely trapped on the firebreak of the Sunrise Highway, with flames leaping on both sides of them. But this week’s response, even in the very earliest hours of the effort, when the fire was not contained and spreading quickly, was much better coordinated, those who took part in both events said.

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God Bless our local fiiremen/women. May they get the job done safely for all.
Thank you to the entire rescue teams and volunteers.
By harlee24 (7), southampton on Apr 9, 12 5:42 PM
3 members liked this comment
Ditto. Hopefully this fire will not involve a radiation contamination component.
By PBR (4952), Southampton on Apr 9, 12 5:45 PM
Gotta love our volunteers!!! Hope you all stay safe while you are keeping the communities safe!!!!!
By rjhdad (73), southampton on Apr 9, 12 6:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank God for all our dedicated volunteers! Praying that they all remain safe and are able to get this "monster" under control soon.
By Proud of our volunteers (5), Southampton on Apr 9, 12 7:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Praying all of our firefighters stay safe and get control of these fires! Very scary situation!
By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on Apr 9, 12 8:12 PM
There were some big charcoal-y pieces of ash on my front walk and back patio late this afternoon. I saw the North Sea brush truck heading out at about 5 pm and later noticed the Southampton one in the parking lot of the fire house on Hampton Road. Looked as if it had just come back as I thought I glimpsed a few firemen in turnout gear resting on the ground near it.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Apr 9, 12 9:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
The brush truck that you noticed, that was at hampton road was on standby. In the event that a brush fire were to start in southampton.
"It's Brush fire season, no open burns"
By Unkown Local (18), southampton on Apr 12, 12 4:42 PM
Thank you to all that are helping extinguish this monster blaze. Be safe!
By bchgrl83 (52), Westhampton Beach on Apr 10, 12 6:07 AM
Has the fire in Bridgehampton been put out?
By btdt (449), water mill on Apr 10, 12 10:52 AM
Thank God there wasn't any parades going on!
By patrickstar (67), hampton bays on Apr 10, 12 2:09 PM
FUI ? Firefighting under the Influence !! Heehee !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Apr 11, 12 2:54 PM
Glad that fire is out and the injuries the firemen sustained were not life threatening. Hope it rains soon!
By Rich Morey (374), Brooklyn on Apr 11, 12 12:03 PM
What was the origin of the fire? The article mentions where, but not how, it began. Or did I misread the article? Thank you firefighters. Without your help and dedication for generations the East End would be a wasteland.
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Apr 11, 12 1:01 PM
Thank you to all of our firefighters!!!! Great job once again!!!
By rjhdad (73), southampton on Apr 12, 12 10:15 AM
1 member liked this comment