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LATEST UPDATE: Firefighters Head Home After Extinguishing Blaze

Evacuation orders have been lifted for residents in Riverhead.

UPDATE: 8:22 p.m.: More than 24 hours after the Brookhaven brush fire started, evacuation orders have been lifted and residents forced to leave their homes because of the fires are returning home Tuesday night.

At the same time, Riverhead Town Police said that fire department operations have just about wrapped up; firefighters have been heading home.

"The overall manpower, equipment, and logistical capabilities that Suffolk County's fire departments can attack a large fire with, is second to none," said Allen Schneider of the Hampton Bays Fire Department Tuesday evening.

In addition to manpower fighting the fire, behind the scenes, Schneider pointed out, there are hundreds of volunteers manning stations and standing by in case another fire emergency sparks elsewhere in Suffolk County. The scores of firefighters at the scene, Schneider said were "only a fraction of the overall firefighting force of Suffolk County."

UPDATE: 3:00 p.m.: The fires are nearly out, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the public in a Tuesday afternoon press conference joined by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"I can say with confidence that we have largely contained this fire," said Bellone, thanking all the agencies who demonstated an unprecedented coordination of effort; lessons were learned from 9/11 about the importance of communication, he said.

Bellone said flareups have sprung up due to increased wind; and that there are currently 35 departments on the scene. All 109 fire departments in Suffolk County responded to the fire over the last 24 hours.

"It's not over till it's over, till the last ember is out," said Cuomo.

Bellone said efforts of volunteer responders "prevented what could have been a signficiant disaster." He thanked Cuomo's office and firefighters for all who worked tirelessly responsible for saving life and property.

Cuomo lauded Bellone's efforts. "Talk about trial by fire," Cuomo said. "The county executive is just elected. He really had a terrible challenge and he rose to the occasion."

The fire covered roughly 1,000 acres, Cuomo said.

"It could have been worse," he said. "All the ingredients were there for a real tragedy."

Cuomo said although weather patterns still could change, and the fire is not totally out, he is "cautiously optimistic" that the fire is under control. "The real people who deserve the credit are the men and women who volunteer, who came out at a moment's notic."  The coordination, he added, "was really something special."

UPDATE: 2:36 p.m.: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and Commissioner of Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Jerome Hauer will be holding a press conference at 2:45 p.m. to provide updated information on the brush fires that originated in Manorville and Ridge on Monday.

 UPDATE: 12:36 p.m. Officials are reporting that the flames from a Brookhaven brush fire they've battled for nearly 22 hours are almost entirely extinguished following a massive coordination of fire departments from across Suffolk County.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said firefighters at the scene are just mopping up now. "There might still be some pockets, so they're trying to make sure everything is out," he said.

Firefighters need to be careful to extinguish all embers, as a pickup in wind speeds could cause flames to ignite again, Bellone said earlier Tuesday.

UPDATE: 11:51 a.m.: Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst thanked firefighters who have come together from all East End municipalities to fight the flames.

"It is at times like this that we are reminded of how important and irreplaceable their work and sacrifice is to all of us."

UPDATE: 11:33 a.m.: The Manorville firefighter injured in Monday's wildfires has been identified as William Hille, 35. According to representatives at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Hille is now in good condition and is likely to be released today. He has declined to give interviews, the spokesman said.

UPDATE: 11:11 a.m.: According to Westhampton Beach Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Bill Dalton, wildfires are "pretty much under control. It's pretty much a mop up now."

Dalton said fire police were out last night along the Long Island Expressway looking for hotspots. "The fire should be out by noon or 1 o'clock," Dalton said.

The Westhampton Beach Fire Department was one of many in Suffolk and Nassau Counties to respond. "Everybody and their brother was here," he said.

Two of the brush trucks mired in swamp areas were lost, Dalton reported; the hope is that the remaining four can be extricated without much damage. "It's very tough terrain," Dalton saiad.

Firefighters battling the blaze faced intense heat, Dalton said. "But it's not like the dead of August," he said, remembering the 1995 wildfires that took place in August during high temperatures.

Remembering the 1995 fires, when firefighters flocked to Westhampton to help, Dalton said his department was glad to be able to do the same Monday. "We sent four trucks last night; we felt a responsibility to send many people as we could," Dalton said. "We welcome doing what we can for anyone - back in 1995, everyone was here for us in a very real way."

UPDATE: 10:53 a.m.: Westhampton Beach Fire Department Chief John "Chip" Bancroft said Westhampton Beach firefighters are being asked to pull out of the scene of the fire so water dumps can begin momentarily.

UPDATE: 9:59 a.m.: Mandatory evacuation orders from Monday are still in effect due to the fires, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the public Tuesday morning.

Bellone said he is "cautiously optimistic" that firefighter efforts could get the fire under control before winds pick up this afternoon.

The county executive added that water drops from the sky Tuesdya morning will help in getting the fire completely under control before winds increase. Approximately three hot spots will be targeted; two spots on Mill Road and one on Schultz Road in Manorville.

Very marshy land and water have helped to contain the fire. If winds kick up, the fire can rise to tops of trees, which is why the efforts are underway to douse the flames before increased wind speeds occur later Tuesday, he said.

UPDATE: 9:41 a.m.: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has declared a state of emergency in Suffolk County.

Bellone thanked all agencies and volunteer responders who have helped in firefighting efforts. 

"They have been inspirational in what they have done," Bellone said. He said Elio Zapparrata, chief of the Manorville fire department was getting root canal Monday when he heard about the fire; he told the dentist to pull the tooth so he could get to the fire. "That is the epitome of what we have here in volunteer services," Bellone said.

Bellone was in a police helicopter surveying the scene Tuesday morning. "We are cautiously optimistic that we wll be able to get the fire under control before the winds pick up again," Bellone said, adding it is not yet a certainty. The county is preparing with Governor Andrew Cuomo on organizing water drops before winds pick up later Tuesday.

Nearly 1000 acres have been affected by the fires, Bellone said.

Three homes have been confirmed destroyed so far; there are still 41 homes without power. 

The Suffolk County Arson squad is beginning an investigation to determine the cause of the fires.

"We learned a lot of lessons from the fires of 1995 and 9/11 about how we communicate and coordinate," Bellone said, commending coordinated efforts in battling the fires.

A firefighter injured yesterday is doing well and in good spirits, Bellone said. His injuries were sustained because his truck, surrounded by fire, was burned. "He had to fight his way through the flames. This is a dangerous situation that they are in," Bellone said, adding they are doing a remarkable job.

There are appromately 35 fire departments still fighting the fire.

Water drops will be scheduled to begin in the next 15 minutes before winds pick up.

According to a representative from the Red Cross, 12 clients came to a Riverhead shelter last night. The Red Cross also provided canteen services, meals and snacks to responders.

The fire on Brookhaven National Lab was contained; two employees from BNL were evacuated from a sewage treatment facility, BNL officials say.

Bellone said fires came right up to homes and if not for firefighters' efforts, damage could have been much worse. Efforts are continuing to fight the fire before winds pick up again Tuesday afternoon.

UPDATE: 9:32 a.m.: Volunteer firefighters report that heavy equipment was called in to try and pull out six brush trucks that got stuck last night in the woods off Mill Road in very soft, muddy terrain, south of Calverton field. Work is ongoing to extricate those vehicles. 

Approximately 50 residents were removed and evacuated from their homes during the wildfires, according to a rough estimate by Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine.

UPDATE: 9:14 a.m.: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has reportedly said that he does not think it will be necesssary to call in the National Guard to assist in firefighting efforts, although assistance could be needed with cleanup.

UPDATE: 8:39 a.m.: The National Weather Service has once again issued a red flag warning, which will be in effect until 8 p.m. today.

According to meteorologist Tim Morrin, a red flag warning is issued when fire weather conditions indicate a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and very dry conditions, meaning that fire would spread, grow, and be problematic to contain.

Although wildfires are now contained, later Tuesda, conditons could be conducive for the fire to spead, Morrin said. 

Winds are expected to reach 25 to 30 miles per hour on Tuesday and the relative humity to drop below 30 percent. "The potential will exist for the fire to spread," Morrin said. While a very light rain or shower later could evolve Tuesday afternoon, because it will be so light, Morrin said, "It won't do much to take away the danger."

On Wednesday, forecasters expect a slightly increased chance for some showers. "Tomorrow does not look as bad regarding fire danger," Morrin said. Cloudy skies, lower wind, and the chance of rain, Morrin said, could mean could news for firefighters. "It looks like the threat does lessen for tomorrow," Morrin said.

UPDATE: 7:31 a.m.: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said on Tueday that the brush fires in Ridge are still actively burning and not under control, although the area of the blaze did not expand overnight.

There is no need for additional evacuations, he said in an impromptu, televised press briefing. 

Bellone said if winds pick up later today the situation could change again and all means are being employed to get as much water on the flames before winds shift.

Efforts are underway to retrive six fire brush trucks that became stuck in the marshy area late last night, as reported by Patch. Those trucks were in no danger, just stuck, volunteer firefighters reported.

Bellone commended firefighters who have been fighting the flames in dangerous conditions.

7:10 a.m.: Fires are contained on Tuesday morning as firefighters switch shifts and continue to battle at least four separate blazes that broke out on Tuesday across Manorville, Calverton and other locations in Suffolk County.

An acrid smell of smoke blankets the entire East End as, according to Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller, the fires have been contained.

In Riverhead eight structures have been damaged, including two homes that were severely damaged, two homes with minor damage, two sheds and commercial buildings.

Only four individuals took refuge at the Riverhead Town Senior Center last night, Hegermiller said.

Homes have been damaged eight structures damaged, commerial buidling damage two sheds two home severly damaged two homes with minor damage.

All horses were removed from danger safely, Hegermiller said.

Hegermiller said roads are still closed, including Grumman Blvd., Schultz Road, and Wading River Manorville Road. "People should stay out of that area," Hegermiller said. "There are a lot of firetrucks there. I don't want anyone there looking around."

The chief commended all responders for their hard work. "It's a good job," he said, adding the hope is that fire remains contained with no more flareups.

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp. members say no injuries were reported overnight.

SuzyScuba April 10, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Thankfully no one perished. What about the horses?
Erica Jackson (Editor) April 10, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Sharon Springer Celi said via Facebook, "Thank you Patch for the most up -to-date reports !!!!!!"
ellen brayshaw April 10, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I applaud all that have worked so hard to keep the people in harms way safe from these fires. I lived through the 95 fires as we rescued 50+ horses from harm. Now my farm is east of you and all of the other farms around me are linked up ready to help evacuate any other horse farms in need. Kudos to all fire departments, police, volunteers etc. We know how hard a job this is.thank you!!
Lisa Finn (Editor) April 10, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Thank you, Sharon, for your comment.
Pat Friia April 10, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Kudos to the volunteers who tirelessly fought the wildfire at Ridge over these past two days. And thanks to Panera Bread in Riverhead for being on hand at the frontlines with hundreds of sandwiches for the firefighters. Let's pray for their safety and a quick end to the fire.
bucketsofgold April 11, 2012 at 10:38 AM
Great job to all the hardworking firefighters and Emergency Medical Team !!! Makes me proud to be born and raised here on Long Island !!!
Debra Peters (Debbie Hernandez) April 11, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Thank you to all the reporters, volunteers and everyone that helped out. It was such a relief when I saw the Red Cross vehicles and other Fire Departments leaving to go HOME!

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