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Manorville brush fire among NY's biggest

A state police helicopter drops water over hot

A state police helicopter drops water over hot spots in Suffolk. (April 10, 2012) Credit: Kevin Coughlin

ALBANY -- The massive blaze that swept across Manorville and Ridge has become one of the 10 largest wildfires in New York State over the past 37 years, according to state records.

The fire, estimated to have affected at 1,124 acres Tuesday, is the seventh biggest wildfire in the state since 1975, according to statistics from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In fact, three of the top eight wildfires during that period have occurred in Suffolk County. The largest by far was the 1995 Sunrise Fire, which consumed more than 6,000 acres on eastern Long Island.

The frequency of fires in Suffolk might surprise some people who associate wildfires with sparsely populated woodlands, but it's a well-known fact among firefighting pros, said Andy Jacob, assistant director of the New York State Forest Rangers.

"The forests down there are filled with oak and pine, and those leaves burn very well," Jacob said. "And right now, while there are no oak leaves, the sun comes straight through the trees and bakes the moisture right out of the ground."

Plus Long Island gets a lot of wind and the conditions are ripe for big fires in the spring, he said.

"Cold air has been moving down from Canada," Jacob said, "and by the time it works through all the mountains in New York State, there's no moisture in that air."

Nearly half the annual wildfires in New York occur between mid-March and mid-May.

After Sunrise, the largest wildfire over the past four decades was a blaze that began by a campfire that went out of control in Woodbury in Orange County in April 1989. That fire consumed 3,650 acres. The third largest blaze began on the same day in nearby Tuxedo, and also stemmed from a campfire. It grew to 3,005 acres.

The Overlooks fire in 2008, ignited by a tossed cigarette, was the fourth largest wildfire. It damaged nearly 3,000 acres, mostly in Minnewaska State Park.

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