Firefighters have mostly contained the brush fires that burned across more than 1,000 acres in Suffolk County on Long Island, injuring firefighters and destroying homes, officials said.
Helicopters dumped large buckets of water on hotspots Tuesday, and officials said that was key to controlling the flames.
"We have largely contained this fire," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "We have prevented what could have been a significant disaster."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited some of the damaged areas on Tuesday and echoed those sentiments.
"It really could have been a lot worse," said Cuomo. "All the ingredients were there for a real tragedy."
What started Monday as two separate brush fires in Ridge and Manorville merged into one large fire by that evening, officials said. Wind gusts of up to 45 mph and dry conditions throughout the region helped spread the flames.
Bellone said investigators were working to determine the cause of the fires, which were fought by 35 fire departments.
"Stick your head in a fireplace, that's what it was like," said the Ridge fire captain. "It was really hot at some points. Some points where you couldn't breathe that well, you couldn't see that well."
Three firefighters were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital's burn center with injuries after a fire truck became caught in a fire in Ridge. Two were released, and a third was admitted with first- and second-degree burns, officials said.
Bellone said he visited with the firefighter who was injured and described him as being "in great spirits."
In Manorville, at least three homes and a commercial building were destroyed after being engulfed by the flames.
No one was injured, but for Kathleen Moretti and her family, the fire damage to their Manorville home of 25 years was overwhelming.
"It's mind-boggling," she said. "Just mind-boggling."
John Moretti recalled, "The fire was up at the tree line. I've never seen something so tall. It looked like it was never-ending."
Neighbor Dennis Krupski fled Monday night with his prized race car in tow. While he saved the car, the flames destroyed his workshop and several other structures on his property.
"Twenty-five years of racing, and it's all gone," he said.
Bellone said he surveyed the damage by helicopter Tuesday morning and said it could have been far worse if not for the work of firefighters.
"You could see the fire and how close it came to so many other homes -- the fire line was right there," he said.
Riverhead Police on Monday evening ordered a mandatory evacuation for part of the township, which includes the communities of Ridge and Manorville.
The Riverhead Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane was established as an emergency shelter.
The burning land on Long Island included hundreds of acres at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The lab spans a 5,265-acre site in the Pine Barrens region of Long Island. No lab buildings were reported damaged.
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