Brush Fire Gets Lost in Pandemic

Pictured Above: The Mastic Fire Department on the scene of the April 16 wildfire in Manorville | Manorville FD photo

While Long Islanders were focused on the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, 26 local fire departments worked together Thursday afternoon, April 16, to contain the largest local brush fire so far this season near Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

It was a dry day with a strong northwest wind when the Manorville Fire Department responded to the call off of Schultz Road, North of North Street, just outside of the easternmost boundary of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The site was not far from where a conflagration of April wildfires in 2012 laid waste to 1,200 acres, the largest fire in Long Island’s pine barrens since the 1995 Sunrise Wildfires.

“Upon arrival, the fire was discovered to be a large brush fire that was spreading due to the wind. Flames were approximately four feet high,” reported Manorville Fire Department Member Christopher Steel on the fire department’s website. “Manorville FD had all four GI brush trucks in the woods to extinguish the fire.”

A member of the Manorville Fire Department’s brush truck crew at Thursday’s fire | Manorville Fire Department photo

Mr. Steel reported the fire burned between 100 and 150 acres before it was contained. The mutual aid fire departments were released from the scene about 5:30 p.m., and Manorville’s apparatus was finished working and back in service by about 8 p.m.

Suffolk County Fire Rescue & Emergency Services responded to the scene, along with the Brookhaven National Laboratory Fire Department, whose chief, Tim Kelly, served as the incident commander, coordinating the 26 responding volunteer fire departments, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday.

“They did an outstanding job putting out the brush fire,” said Mr. Bellone.

The quick stop was a stark contrast to the fires of eight years ago.

On April 9, 2012, the Crescent Bow Fire ignited on the grounds of Brookhaven National Laboratory, driven by heavy winds, burning through 246 acres in 45 minutes, in an area that hadn’t burned in 70 years. By the time it was over, the fire had burned through 1,200 acres.

After that fire, the Central Pine Barrens Planning and Policy Commission began outreach to communities in Ridge, Manorville and Calverton, which are within what’s known in wildland fire circles as the “Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), areas where human settlements abut large swaths of wilderness.

Long Island’s pine barrens are a globally rare ecosystem that is dependent on fire for new growth.

But today, human residential development has encroached on this ecosystem, which has a large fuel load of dry and dead wood due to an aggressive history of fire suppression and new threats such as the southern pine beetle and climate change.

Many foresters believe such areas would benefit from controlled burns to reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires.

The Pine Barrens Commission has since received federal funding to prepare a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for the area, with public education efforts to encourage residents to adopt the principles of Firewise communities.

Mr. Bellone pointed out Friday that, in addition to Thursday’s wildfire, first responders had also been at the ready for a severe storm on Monday, April 13, which brought winds of up to 70 miles per hour to the region.

“Mother nature is not concerned with the problems we have down here. She is going to continue to do what she does,” he said. “It is comforting to know that, even in a global pandemic, volunteers are there every day when something happens.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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