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Firefighters contain new Manorville wildfire

Firefighters battle a brush fire at 155 Weeks

Firefighters battle a brush fire at 155 Weeks Avenue in Manorville. (April 17, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

Firefighters have contained a large brush fire that began in Manorville and was fueled by the same conditions that triggered a raging blaze that burned about 1,100 acres last week, officials said.

"This was a very dangerous fire. It was reminiscent of the wildfire we had just a week ago today. Unlike that fire last week, this was moving toward a densely populated area," said County Executive Steve Bellone at a news conference at the fire's command center in Manorville.

Bellone said Tuesday's fire had burned through 150 acres and was under control. He credited firefighters who put up a wall of engines on Weeks Avenue "and stopped the fire in its tracks." There were no injuries or structures damaged.

"At some point, our luck is going to run out and something tragic is going to happen. . . . Looks like we dodged a bullet," he said.

Bellone said 300 homes and a day care center were evacuated. The evacuation was lifted as of 5:30 p.m. but Weeks Avenue was still closed.

Dry air, winds and a lack of rain have made for tinderbox conditions -- the same issues that fueled the larger wildfire last week.

"No one should be burning anything outside," warned Bellone as he prepared to board a helicopter to tour the damage.

Upon landing, Bellone said: "Its amazing how close it came to people's homes. It came right up to the property in some places."

Manorville Fire Chief Elio Zapparrata said the fire came within a couple of hundred feet of the day care center, the East End Kids Academy. The children were taken to the Manorville Fire Department, where they were picked up by their parents, said Suffolk Fire Commissioner Joe Williams.

The fire started at 1:30 p.m. near Weeks Avenue and North Street and firefighters immediately jumped on it.

Aerial footage of the blaze by News 12 Long Island at 3:15 p.m. showed many of the areas that had been on fire an hour earlier appeared to be scorched, but no longer burning. More than a dozen fire departments initially responded to the blaze but that number grew to about 35.

Manorville firefighter Chris Steele, among the first to the scene, said the fire seemed manageable at first.

"We got a good hit on it. But the winds picked up and it took off. It got to the top of the trees, so it was about 80 feet high," he said as he rested at the side of the road.

The fire then quickly moved east. The firefighters chased it, battling it from behind, then detoured to get in front of it on Weeks Avenue to keep the fire from jumping that road.

"We had engines around all the houses. It was hot and nasty," he said.

Two residential blocks near the fire were evacuated, officials said. Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said 10 to 15 blocks of homes were evacuated at the height of the blaze.

Resident Lisa Borelli, who lives on Weeks Avenue, arrived to find the street blocked off. She said her boyfriend called her to give her the news. "He told me the whole house was filled with smoke."

She said she rushed home from a doctor's appointment in Jericho to pick up her 13-year-old daughter from school.

"My house is right next to the machine shop where the fire is going," she said looking down Weeks Ave. "I mean there's acres and acres of wood over there."

Chris Chiofalo, who also lives on Weeks Avenue, said he cut through the thorny woods to get to his house not far from the blockade after police wouldn't let him through. He left to pick his 17-year-old son from Eastport South Manor High School because he said officials weren't allowing students to go home on the bus.

Chiofalo was alerted to the fire and evacuation via a recorded message from the county.

When he and his son finally made it to his home, Chiofalo looked at the empty street and said: "I will not leave until it's three houses away from us."

The cause of the blaze remains unknown.

Evacuations took place along streets east of Weeks Avenue, including Tall Oaks Court, Calendar Road, and Douglas and Victoria lanes, officials said.

Firefighters set up a staging area on Weeks Avenue and were stopping traffic as a plume of smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air.

Brookhaven National Laboratory sent a brush truck and captain to assist in the blaze, said Michael Pena, division manager of the Laboratory Protection Division at BNL.

Pena said it didn't appear the lab or campus was in danger.

"The wind is in our favor coming out of the northwest," Pena said.

Among the departments sending units were Ridge, Yaphank, Coram, Eastport, Manorville, Brookhaven and Wading River.

The Long Island Rail Road has canceled two trains operating between Ronkonkoma and points east as a result of the fires, replacing them with bus service. They are the eastbound 2:42 p.m. from Ronkonkoma due to arrive in Riverhead at 3:27 p.m. and the westbound 3:58 p.m. from Yaphank due in Ronkonkoma at 4:43 p.m. The 5:21 p.m. eastbound train from Ronkonkoma to Yaphank will be canceled and replaced with bus service, according to a Long Island Rail Road email alert.

Lauren Nash, a meteorologist at the National Weather Center in Upton said Monday's conditions of low humidity and wind gusts of up to 25 mph were ideal to spread a brush fire.

"When the wind is a bit strong it could move that fire a lot quicker," said Nash.

The first chance of rain is not expected to arrive until Saturday.

"We are looking at a good chance for Saturday and Sunday, and possibly into Monday," Nash said.

With Patricia Kitchen, Chau Lam, Mark Harrington, Mitchell Freedman and Paul LaRocco

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