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Officials: Westbury trash facility fire contained, hot spots remain

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A "massive" fire at a Westbury trash facility that disrupted service on the Long Island Rail Road has been contained, a Nassau fire official said Thursday. The fire first was reported at 8:48 p.m. Wednesday at Jamaica Ash and Rubbish Removal on Covert Lane. Credit: Howard Schnapp/Paul Mazza

A fire with flames reaching 50 feet at a Westbury trash facility shut down a Long Island Rail Road branch overnight and kept burning well into Thursday as firefighters struggled to douse smoldering debris, officials said.

The fire, which broke out Wednesday night at Jamaica Ash and Rubbish Removal on Covert Lane — a facility bordered on three sides by residential neighborhoods — also prompted investigators to monitor the air for any lingering toxic substances, but they said nothing dangerous was found.

Firefighters from more than 70 departments, including in Suffolk County — pressed by a fatal Garden City house fire Thursday morning, took turns attacking into the trash facility fire through the afternoon. Some firefighters had left earlier to assist on the Garden City fire in which three people died, authorities said.

No injuries had been reported in the Westbury fire, which was first reported at 8:48 p.m., Nassau County Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael F. Uttaro said at a news conference Thursday with County Executive Laura Curran and other officials.

"To this moment it's still burning and smoldering," Uttaro said. "The cause remains under investigation and it will be for some time."

Curran said a cause may never be determined.

"It could be the case with the Jamaica Ash fire, we may not find out, because it was such a large fire and there’s so much stuff in there," Curran said.

Considering that the Westbury and Garden City fires burned simultaneously Thursday morning and one included fatalities, "it has been a difficult time for our first responders. As always, we owe everything to the first responders who put their lives on the line to save life and property," Curran said.

A Nassau County hazardous materials team monitored air quality from the burning trash yard, but did not find any harmful chemicals in the air to pose a threat to nearby homes.

"The air was deemed safe and nothing toxic, or more importantly dangerous, in the air to necessitate an evacuation," Uttaro said.

In addition to concerns of burning debris landing on the LIRR railroad tracks, officials also shut down electrical transmission lines as flames leapt 40 to 50 feet in the air, endangering the overhead lines, Uttaro said.

Firefighters battled a partially collapsed building as the roof and a side wall caved in, making it impassable for firefighters trying to enter the 1,000-by-600-foot building and control the blaze.

Fire crews were still responding Thursday afternoon to attack hot spots and attempting to access bales of cardboard burning inside, in a difficult area to access near the LIRR tracks.

Service on the LIRR's Huntington/Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma branches had been suspended but resumed at 8:46 a.m. Thursday. The suspension was due to a debris field scattered on the tracks and fire activity nearby, off the LIRR property, LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

An employee of Jamaica Ash declined to comment.

The company's website describes its clients as offices, malls and large stores. Crews pick up a wide variety of trash on a daily or weekly schedule. It also handles recycling of paper, cardboard, plastics and metals.

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