Wildfires engulf Tennessee, probed in New Jersey, New York

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 11, 2012 5:48 PM
Wildfires engulf Tennessee, probed in New Jersey, New York

(Reuters) - Wildfires scorched Tennessee on Wednesday as blazes in New Jersey and on New York's Long Island were largely brought under control and some were investigated as possible arson.

In the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, a wildfire raged on Wednesday, having already destroyed four buildings with 48 vacation condominiums since it began on Tuesday morning.

The fires follow an unusually dry winter and what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said was the warmest March in the contiguous United States since records began in 1895.

Ted Dailey, district forester for the Tennessee forestry division, said that efforts to control the fire, on English Mountain near the resort communities of Sevierville, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, were being hampered by the steepness of the burning slopes that prevented the use of bulldozers to clear out fire lines to prevent the fire spreading further.

"It's down to the drudgery of climbing this steep, steep mountain and digging out fire lines by hand," Dailey said.

In New Jersey, a wildfire that consumed about 1,000 acres of the picturesque Pine Barrens area in southern part of the state was brought under full control by Tuesday night, according to the state's Department of Environmental Protection, as was a smaller wildfire in Ocean County.

In northern New Jersey, a 100-acre brush fire broke out on Wednesday in the dry grasses of the Meadowlands near MetLife Stadium, sending up plumes of black smoke that could be seen from parts of Manhattan.

In the southern New Jersey fires, there were no injuries or damage to property reported. Authorities were investigating whether the fires were started deliberately.

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In Suffolk County on the eastern end of Long Island, fire consumed about 1,000 acres of pine forest around Manorville, said Jon Schneider, spokesman for the Suffolk County Executive's office.

Three firefighters were injured with burns that were not life threatening, he said. The fire destroyed two homes in the area and damaged another 10.

The county's arson squad is investigating the fire's cause.

"This is the worst fire that Suffolk County's had in 17 years," Schneider said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Timothy Ghianni in Nashville; Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)