"I've never seen a storm of this magnitude, and I've never seen a storm like this create as much fire damage as this storm," said Thomas Fitzsimmons, second assistant chief for the Massapequa Fire Department. Many members didn't sleep for as many as 36 hours, not returning home until out-of-state departments arrived to relieve them, he said.
In addition to fires sparked when Sandy downed wires and drowned electrical systems, the combustible combination of residents using candles for light, fireplaces and heaters for warmth, and damaged electronics igniting fires when power was restored have stretched the resources of firefighters Islandwide. Dozens, if not hundreds, of fires have been linked to superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, officials said, including at least three overnight fires Thursday.
Robert Waegerle, first assistant chief for the Amityville Fire Department, said they've been seeing electrical fires sparked mainly by saltwater damage. As power resumes, electronics and appliances damaged by saltwater are still plugged in and can ignite. He advised residents to shut off circuit breakers before power is restored and have the system checked by an electrician to avoid such fires.
Early Thursday, a Valley Stream house was damaged by fire when a woman placed gas containers on her porch for storage -- then lit a candle to see because it was dark, police said. It was not clear whether gas fumes were ignited or spilled fuel was ignited by the candles. Nassau County police said the woman was not injured. It was not clear how badly the house was damaged.
In Massapequa, investigators are trying to determine whether residents using a fireplace to heat their home, which had lost power, accidentally started a fire that destroyed the house. That fire took place on Denise Street just after 1 a.m. Thursday.
Police said a Massapequa Fire Department chief arrived on the scene to find the house fully engulfed. Fire officials said they think either seven or eight occupants were in the home -- but all escaped without injuries.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries battling the blaze, officials said. He was taken to a hospital for treatment, police said.
Police said one Nassau officer also was injured, suffering a dislocated shoulder. That officer also was taken to a hospital.
Firefighters tried four times to save the home of Lindenhurst resident Geri Yeghikian, 45, who was waiting for FEMA assistance outside of the Bower Avenue Elementary School in Lindenhurst Friday morning. Her home had burned to the ground during the storm when firefighters could not reach it because of 6-foot-deep floodwaters.
She said firefighters tried again and again to fight the blaze, only to be pushed back by floodwaters.
"They could not even get down the block," Yeghikian said. "It burned for 12 straight hours."