In the wake of a , local officials are now left trying to figure out how to prevent a fire of that size and scale from happening again - and should a fire break out again, that adequate water is available in the sparsely populated hamlet.
On Wednesday, the Pine Barrens Commission - made up of town, county, and state officials that oversee the preserved 100,000-plus acres - decided to bid out for a fire management plan, looking for qualified parties to conduct controlled burns.
"You want to prevent fires, not fight them better," said Dick Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, a separate non-profit organization that advocates open space preservation.
Amper said that since 1999, local governments have averaged 70 acres per year of controlled burns in the Pine Barrens. About 1,000 acres per year would be necessary to burn off enough built-up underbrush that is so easily flammable it causes a rapid spread of wildfire. Amper estimated that the areas burned last week had not been burned for 65 years prior the unforeseen brush fire; burning once every 12 years should be the norm, he said.
In the immediate future, though, elected officials in Riverhead have called for fire suppression wells, strategically placed throughout the Pine Barrens, to serve as an option for firefighters who find themselves in the middle of the woods with no way of refilling their tanks.
In the portion of Riverhead Town where last week's fire spread, 61 homes and businesses sit without access to public water - meaning no Riverhead Water District hydrants.
"I was adamant that the Pine Barrens Commission should find a way to come up with money to put fire wells in the surrounding neighborhoods," said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. The supervisor suggested finding a matching grant to place wells in the area as a backup for firefighters in the future.
According to North Fork Legis. Ed Romaine, R-Center Moriches, the county may have the resources to install the wells themselves. Romaine will introduce a bill next week directing the Office of Water Resources, within the County Department of Health, to locate and drill wells - which can reportedly pump 400 gallons per minute - in collaboration with other county departments.
“The events of the past two weeks highlight the need for additional fire wells in this area without spending millions on new, unnecessary, public water mains,” Romaine said.
Riverhead Water District Superintendent Gary Pendzick said that the nearest water main ends roughly a mile away from the remote area.
While wells wouldn't hurt, Riverhead Fire Chief Tony White said that they shouldn't necessarily be relied upon, and with the volume needed to fill a 6,500-gallon tanker, any wells would need to have adequate water pressure. White has found tankers - plenty of them - to be reliable enough.
"If most chiefs think they will need three, they will ask for five," he said.
Manorville Fire Chief Elio Zapparatta said on Thursday that he'll be meeting with local officials in coming weeks to discuss options.