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Crews still battle brushfires in Northeast

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 6:44 PM EDT, Tue April 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gov. Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency for New York's Suffolk County
  • National Weather Service has issued warnings in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • Weather Service says the fires occurred after a dry spell in the region
  • Firefighters continue to battle brushfires on nearly 2,600 acres in the U.S. Northeast

New York (CNN) -- Firefighters continue to battle a series of brushfires raging on nearly 2,600 acres in the U.S. Northeast, which officials say were triggered by high winds and dry conditions.

Parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been issued warnings by the National Weather Service after a recent dry spell in the region.

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for New York's Suffolk County, where a 1,000-acre blaze broke out Monday. The declaration makes the county eligible for financial assistance.

"It could have been a lot worse," he said.

The fire began in the area surrounding the Brookhaven National Laboratory, according to County Executive Steven Bellone.

The fire continued to rage into Tuesday morning and prompted Suffolk County officials to ask for the emergency declaration, he said during a news conference Tuesday.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get the fire under control before winds pick up again," he said.

Two firefighters were released from a hospital Monday with minor injuries, and a third suffered second- and third-degree burns after winds fanned flames in a wooded area where he was working, Bellone said.

The injured firefighter, who was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital, is "doing well" and "in good spirits," he added.

State officials planned water drops Tuesday from a helicopter in an attempt to control the flames, said Jerry Hauer, New York's commissioner of homeland security and emergency services.

The National Guard is also on standby in the event that the fire worsens, he said.

Homes in Brookhaven and Riverhead, Long Island, were evacuated Monday, and residents were still unable to return as of Tuesday morning, Bellone said. Three homes were destroyed in the fire.

The Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island was also hit hard by a five-alarm fire Monday. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the blaze, authorities said. The fire was first called in about 11 a.m. Monday, and 168 firefighters were sent to the scene.

The fire was under control by around 4 a.m. Tuesday, but firefighters remained at the scene through the morning, officials said.

No homes were evacuated.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, a wildfire that sprawled across about 1,000 acres of rural forest at its peak had been about 75% contained as of Tuesday, according to Michael Achey, the state's Forest Fire Service spokesman.

The flames were reported just after midnight Monday and spread rapidly in Tabernacle and Woodland townships in Burlington County, New Jersey.

"We had a very strong wind yesterday, and that fanned the blaze," Achey said. "The conditions are a little bit better today, but they are still calling for a strong westerly wind."

Twenty-five homes are in the fire area, Achey said, but no homes were evacuated.

No injuries have been reported, and the fire remains under investigation, he added.

Connecticut

A 60-acre fire in Milford, Connecticut, was about 90% contained Tuesday, according to Chris Zak, a Milford Fire Department spokesman.

Two buildings were evacuated, but residents were allowed back into their homes Monday night.

The flames whipped through northern parts of Milford -- a wooded, marshy area with very few buildings, Zak said. No injuries were reported.

He said his department is accustomed to marsh fires, but Monday's blaze was on a different scale.

"This was a fast-moving brushfire, so it's something we're not used to," Zak said. "The guys did a fantastic job."

By Tuesday morning, firefighters were still at the scene.

"We're aggressively attacking it," Zak said. "It's still windy out here today, so we don't want anything to flare up or rekindle."

Pennsylvania

In southeast Pennsylvania, a blaze that spread over 450 acres at its worst point was about 95% contained Tuesday, said Joe Frassetta, district forester at the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

Firefighters from 30 different companies fought the fire, which raged in French Creek State Park in Berks County, through Monday night and into Tuesday.

Residents of more than 100 homes along the border of the park were evacuated Monday. Flames came within 100 yards of several homes but did not cause any structural damage, Frassetta said.

"For this area of Pennsylvania, this is about as bad as it gets," he said.

A second, smaller fire in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, was about 90% contained as of Tuesday.

Despite several smaller overnight fires, rainfall helped keep the brush blaze in check, said Duane Hagelgans, a regional emergency management spokesman.

The 30-acre fire began in a private logging area on Peter's Mountain, Hagelgans said.

No homes were evacuated, but volunteer firefighters battled both the blaze and rough, mountainous terrain, which hampered efforts to contain the spreading fire.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, Hagelgans said.

"The winter hurt us because its been very dry," he said. "There are a lot of leaves on the ground."

CNN's Kristina Sgueglia, Marina Landis, Julia Talanova, Julia Greenberg, Khara Lewin and Jackie Castillo contributed to this report.

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