Multiple large brush fires burning in Rockland County; nearby homes evacuated

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Saturday, April 15, 2023
Large brush fires across Rockland County likely caused by train sparks
Multiple large brush fires from Congers to Stony Point might have started by sparks from a passing CSX train during track maintenance, officials said. Morgan Norwood has the latest details.

ROCKLAND COUNTY, New York (WABC) -- A chain of brush fires threatened several residential communities in Rockland County Friday afternoon.

Volunteer firefighters battled several brush fires along the CSX train line from Congers to Stony Point.

By Friday evening, officials said the Conger fire was under control, but there was an uptick in hot spots at the original site by Celery Farm and by Davies Farm. The Stony Point fire was nearly out and responders continued to hit remaining hot spots, while fires along the railroad were out.

Preliminary reports indicate that sparks kicked up from an S/B train traveling through Stony Point, Haverstraw and Congers may have started the fire, according to Rockland officials.

Newscopter 7 was above the fires that stretched from Waltham Avenue past Hazen Lane in Congers.

Fire departments from other towns and residents were seen doing what they could to prevent the fire from reaching nearby houses. Choppers dragging massive buckets of water buzzed over Congers hours after the fire broke out.

Eyewitness News reporter Morgan Norwood spoke to a woman who rushed to her parent's home when she heard how close flames were to her childhood home.

Multiple large brush fires from Congers to Stony Point might have started by sparks from a passing CSX train during track maintenance, officials said.

She and a friend began to unravel garden hoses and attempted to keep the flames at bay just a few feet from the family pool.

"Just lots of flames and people yelling, it was scary," resident Sol Deleon said who's home was 10 feet from the flames.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day said its likely that track maintenance being done by CSX couple with train traffic lead to the multiple fires.

"Let's be honest, there's no way that somebody dropped a match in Congers and it magically became a fire in Stony Point," Day said.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the state would deploy additional aid to Rockland County to help the continued efforts of local firefighters.

"Given the dry and warm conditions over the past few days, we have seen an increase in wildfires in multiple counties and are responding quickly," Governor Hochul said. "I encourage all New Yorkers to stay vigilant and thank all our first responders, partner agencies, and neighbors who are working to contain these fires and protect our communities."

Clarkstown police evacuated over 100 homes near the fires.

Officials are asking people to avoid the area of Old Haverstraw Road to Route 303.

At least one firefighter has suffered minor injuries.

"It's largely contained," Clarksdale Town Supervisor George Hoehmann said. "There are hot spots that now call for brush equipment to get into the area. We have a massive response. Keep in mind these are all volunteer fire departments."

CSX released a statement regarding the incident:

At approximately 1:57 p.m. ET today, CSX was contacted by Haverstraw Town Police requesting that train traffic be stopped due to brush fires near Gurnee Avenue in Haverstraw, NY. CSX inspected the train that was in the area and no issues were reported. The safety of the community is our highest priority. We will continue to work in close coordination with first responders and hold train traffic out of the area to allow for a safe response. CSX appreciates the swift action of the local fire departments and is cooperating with Rockland County officials, who are investigating.

Meanwhile, the incident has caught the attention of lawmakers with Senator Bill Weber calling for a meeting with CSX to ensure this never happens again, and Congressman Mike Lawler demanding a thorough investigation and thanking firefighters for their response.

ALSO READ | Massive West Milford wildfire burns 972 acres, 65% contained: Officials

Anthony Johnson reports from the scene of the West Milford wildfire.


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