East Coast wildfires whipped up by winds

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 10, 2012 6:04 PM
East Coast wildfires whipped up by winds

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Raging wildfires fueled by strong winds scorched thousands of acres (hundreds of hectares) in New Jersey and on New York's Long Island on Tuesday as firefighters scrambled aircraft to contain the blazes.

A snowless winter and dry spring have transformed the New York City metropolitan area into a tinderbox, with recent strong winds fanning the flames, authorities said.

Wildfires were also reported in several states along the eastern seaboard.

On eastern Long Island, where New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, three sections within a 2,000-acre (809 hectare) area were burning. But a fire was extinguished on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a nuclear physics facility about 70 miles of New York City, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told a news conference.

In southern New Jersey, a blaze persisted in a 1,000-acre area of the picturesque Pine Barrens but was contained on the firing range at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, where it scorched 300 acres. Military firefighters succeeded in containing the fire on the base and were concentrating on putting out hot spots, said Staff Sergeant David Carbajal.

With winds predicted to strengthen, firefighters on Long Island rushed to complete water drops from aircraft scouting the fire.

"We're trying to get water dropped on those hot spots before the wind picks up," said New York's Commissioner of Homeland Security Jerry Hauer. "This has caused damage to homes, it has caused evacuations."

Three firefighters were injured battling New York's Suffolk County blaze, including one who was badly burned, Bellone said.

"There here have been nearly 1,000 acres affected by fire," he said, adding that three homes and a commercial building were destroyed.

The causes of the fires in both states were under investigation, and New Jersey authorities said they consider the Pine Barrens blaze "suspicious."

The Pine Barrens fire was about 75 percent contained and firefighters also were focusing on 33 smaller fires burning throughout southern New Jersey, said Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In Florida, 89 wildfires affecting nearly 16,000 acres were burning, according to the Florida Forest Service website. The U.S. Forest Service was tracking fires on forest lands in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to its website.

Dozens of blazes in Connecticut, Maryland and Delaware were under control although still smoldering, officials said.

(Additional reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Vicki Allen and Christopher Wilson)