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Ridge, scorched by 2012 wildfire, to join federal program to help property owners

A community in Brookhaven Town that was scorched by a 2012 wildfire that burned more than 1,000 acres in central Suffolk County will join a federal program that helps property owners protect their homes, a state commission has announced.

The hamlet of Ridge is the first on Long Island to become part of the federal Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission said in a news release.

Inclusion in the program makes homeowners eligible for training by the National Fire Protection Association on how to create "defensible spaces" around their homes to reduce damage caused by fires, such as by clearing brush and using fire-resistant building materials, the commission said. The designation also makes Ridge eligible for federal funds to help implement fire protection measures, the commission said.

In a statement, the commission's executive director, John W. Pavacic, said the organization is "looking forward to working with the local fire department, civic organizations and fellow governmental entities in mitigating the impacts that wildfires can cause."

Several houses and 1,124 acres of pine forest were destroyed by the Crescent Bow wildfire, which started April 9, 2012, and scorched sections of Ridge and Manorville. A state investigation determined that the fire -- the seventh-largest in New York history -- was deliberately set. No arrests have been made.

Ridge Fire Chief Steven Gray said the federal program would be "an asset to the community" by helping residents prepare in advance for fires.

"That fire was a fast-moving fire that shifted all over the place, and this study will definitely help," Gray said. "Houses that aren't immediately in heavily wooded areas could be affected by floating embers."

Gray said he recalled being met in 2012 by a 30- to 40-foot wall of fire "that blew right by me. I have never seen fire move that fast."

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