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Suffolk brush fire under control, but hot spots remain

April 11, 2012 2:21:09 PM PDT
Brush fires in Suffolk County are contained on three sides Wednesday, but firefighters are still battling hot spots.

The Long Island Rail Road says normal service is resuming between Greenport and Ronkonkoma.

The fire that burned for two days in Manorville and Ridge is mostly out, but firefighters still have their work cut out for them. And while crews continue looking for flare-ups, investigators will try to determine the cause.

Fire marshals will begin looking into whether the fire that consumed more than 1,000 acres was sparked by someone burning brush or leaves.

High winds pushed the flames into the parched trees, forcing officials to evacuate several neighborhoods.

Three volunteer firefighters were injured when their truck got stuck in the sand. One of the men, Jim McGarry, spoke exclusively to Eyewitness News about the terrifying ordeal.

"The fire was basically chasing us because the wind was whipping," he said. "The fire was surrounding us all around."

The men had to abandoned their truck and run to escape the flames that were quickly closing in.

"I can't even explain what goes through you mind," McGarry said. "It's just the instinct to escape, you know. Just your natural instincts of we gotta get out of here. We have to run through the fire to get out of the fire."

Two of the men were treated for smoke inhalation. The third, William Hille, suffered first and second degree burns to his face.

Covered in burns and bandages, Hille recounted the moments when the fire truck became trapped.

"The flames were coming straight at my face," he said. "I was trying to knock them back as best I could."

Hille, a correction officer at Rikers Island, said the two-hour long wait to be rescued brought on a fear like he's never encountered before.

"It was really scary," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to make it or not."

The charred shell of a truck he had to abandon to save his own life is a sore subject for Hille.

"When you run away, it's hard to feel like a hero," he said.

His fellow firefighters say he's sure to hear plenty about the display, now parked outside the Manorville Fire Department headquarters.

"He wont live that down," Assistant Chief Howard Snow said. "We might have shirts made up. I lost this in the woods or something."

Laughs aside, Hille and the other volunteer firefighters are considered heroes by the community in which their bravery saved so many homes and lives.

"He doesn't want to play the hero role," Snow said. "Everyone on the street was really a hero that day, and he's a hero for staying alive. Those guys came within inches of losing their lives."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who declared a state of emergency, says it was the coordination of several agencies and the quick action of volunteers that prevented more damage.

"They came on a moment's notice, worked around the clock, and they prevented a real tragedy from happening here in Suffolk County," Cuomo said.

Three houses were destroyed and several other buildings were damaged. The state of emergency frees up resources for clean up and rebuilding.

Follow these guidelines to reduce the risk of brush fires:

  • Use ashtrays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking materials is a violation of New Jersey law.
  • Obtain necessary permits for campfires. Don't leave fires unattended. Douse them completely.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children. Teach them the dangers of fire.
  • People living in the forest should maintain a defensible buffer by clearing vegetation within 30 feet of any structures. Also, make sure fire trucks can pass down your driveway.
  • Report suspicious vehicles and individuals. Arson is a primary cause of brush fires.

    CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE FIRE SCENE

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