More than 100 firefighters battled an inferno of a brush fire in Howard Beach Saturday that destroyed four blocks of parkland, covered the area in dense smoke, and sent towering flames leaping towards area homes – leaving residents terrified for close to two hours as the FDNY tried to tame the blaze that could be seen for miles around.
The fire that the FDNY said broke out at 4:19 p.m. at 83rd Street and 163rd Avenue raged as the sun set Saturday afternoon, shooting flames as high as 10 feet into the air, and causing one shingled house to catch fire, before 106 firefighters from 25 units managed to extinguish most of it by 6:21 p.m., according to fire officials and area residents.
By the day’s end, the blaze had consumed an area of parkland measuring 1,000 feet by 2,000 feet, according to the FDNY.
While one home did sustain damage from the fire, Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Al Hagan said residents were lucky no houses were completely destroyed.
“The wind was definitely pushing it towards the houses,” Hagan said of the dramatic blaze that created a thick blanket of smoke that could be seen from both of Queens’ airports, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and even other states. “We were very lucky that the people of the city of New York didn’t lose their homes.”
Firefighters rushed to the scene at 4:22 p.m., and some of the first arriving units were Engine 331 in Howard Beach, Engine 285 in Ozone Park, Ladder 172 in Brooklyn, and Squad 270 from Richmond Hill, according to the FDNY.
No firefighters were injured in the incident, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation, officials said.
Because the blaze occurred in an area of expansive grassland where there are no fire hydrants, Hagan said firefighters had to employ such equipment as long-distance hose stretchers to put out the flames that shot up as high as 10 feet.
The union president noted that city firefighters are trained in fighting wildfires in other parts of the country, and the city has a group – known as an incident management team – specifically designated to respond to the blazes can quickly spiral out of control.
“There’s an intricate score to the wildfire symphony, and the incident management team acts as the conductor,” the UFOA president said.
While Hagan said such a fire is inevitably frightening for those witnessing the smoke and flames, he stressed that homeowners “and their families can sleep securely in their bedrooms known the men and women of the FDNY stand ready to step into harm’s way at all hours of the day and night, 24/7, and during holidays.”
By Anna Gustafson