The fire while walking in the dunes presented many challenges
A drone shot on Friday shows the extent of the bushfire in the grasslands between the Walking Dunes and Goff Point.
Dry conditions and high temperatures were just two of the challenges firefighters faced as they worked to put out a bushfire that scorched some 20 to 25 acres of grassland in Hither Hills State Park on Friday evening, then rekindled on Saturday. Equally challenging was the hard-to-reach location of the fire between Goff Point and the Walking Dunes, over a mile from any paved road.
A call from Cranberry Hole Road in Amagansett shortly after 7 p.m. Friday first alerted emergency personnel to the blaze. It was near high tide, which made access from the beach – the most direct route – “limited because the tide was coming in and we were losing the beach,” Montauk Fire Chief Scott Snow said. , Saturday morning. “We had a truck go there and then the State Parks Department had an ATV to transport people.”
This section of the park, a peninsula bounded by Napeague Harbor to the southwest and Napeague Bay to the north, is riddled with wetlands, making it difficult to find a solid route through the interior. The steep embankments made it difficult for vehicles to access the fire from the outer beach.
The Montauk Fire Department responded, with mutual aid from Amagansett, East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, but, hampered by the terrain, the departments struggled to get firefighters to the remote places.
A brush truck got stuck in swampy conditions. Another got stuck in the sand. The larger trucks “all got stuck in one way or another,” Chief Snow said, “but everyone helped each other out and got themselves out.” Firefighters attempted to reach the scene from the south, through Hither Woods, but could not find a reliable route.
As the effort continued, firefighters were called upon to use their personal four-wheel-drive vehicles to transport personnel and supplies to the scene. They arrived, bit by bit, in smaller vehicles, and attacked the flames with backpacked water canisters.
As night fell, the challenges escalated. “The terrain was tough, it was dark,” Chief Snow said. On the one hand, there was the problem of how to get people into the fire; on the other was the question of where all the hot spots were.
A Suffolk County Police helicopter was called in to locate hot spots and illuminate the area so personnel could find a path to the flames. The East Hampton Police Department also brought in their drones to locate hotspots so firefighters could spray them with water. “It was hard to figure out what we were looking at,” Chief Snow said.
Some 60 to 70 firefighters took part in the effort Friday night, with Napeague Harbor Road and Hither Hills West Overlook serving as staging areas.
At one point, while heading north from the Long Island railroad tracks that bisect Hither Woods, an eastbound train from Amagansett to Montauk was stopped between Napeague Meadow and Napeague Harbor Roads and returned in Amagansett. It was a precaution taken because brush trucks and men were crossing the tracks, Chief Snow said.
By 11:30 p.m. Friday, all personnel and vehicles were back on the roadway. However, around 1 p.m. on Saturday, firefighters were again called to the scene when a few pockets of fire reignited. This time the Springs Fire Department also helped. Department vehicles could reach the location at that time of day, and “we had trucks that were soggy on the ground,” Chief Snow said.
Firefighters finally left the scene after about four and a half hours. On Saturday night, state park staff surveyed the area and dealt with “a few flare-ups.” The state Department of Environmental Conservation sent members of its forest service there on Sunday to keep tabs on things, and on Monday Chief Snow said, “We were called in for a relight, which was only a smoking log.”
“The most important thing, with this drought we find ourselves in, is to be careful of the fire and what you are doing outside,” he added. Whether it’s beach fires, fire pit fires, or fireworks, “all it takes is an ember to fly 100 feet.”
As for the Hither Hills fire, “we were very lucky,” the chief said. ” No one was hurt ; we did not lose any equipment. It was a great effort from all departments and everyone working hard there.