Large areas still in danger; north side of fire still out of control
BY BILL DEMAREST
ORANGEBURG – While Rockland County volunteer firefighters have made some progress, they are still waging a full-scale battle against a wildfire that has engulfed a large area of Clausland Mountain and has sent smoke pouring across the Hudson River and into northern Rockland communities.
Smoke is so dense in some areas miles away from the fire that residents of Garnerville have been calling emergency officials, thinking they have a fire in their neighborhood.
Rockland County Fire and Emergency Services Director Gordon Wren Jr. said much progress has been made on the west side of Clausland Mountain in Orangeburg, where the fire was discovered at about 1:15 p.m. Thursday near the Nice Pak Products facilities off Greenbush Road. However, Wren was not yet ready at 12:15 p.m. today to declare that portion of the fire under control.
Wren said conditions remain very dangerous and there are large wooded areas that are threatened by the fire, which raged unchecked overnight. Firefighters halted operations on the steep slopes of Clausland Mountain last night due to darkness and had planned to resume operations around 8 a.m. However, firefighters had to go out around 4 a.m. to protect homes along Greenbush Road that were threatened by flames, and Nyack volutneer firefighters were called out at about 4:45 a.m. to Tweed Boulevard at the top of Clausland Mountain, where homes on the east side of the road were threatened by embers from the fire.
Wren said the northern end of the area affected by the fire is still raging out of control and that he and other fire officials are looking at aerial photos taken from a helicopter and inspecting the area to determine best where to concentrate firefighting resources.
Early this morning, firefighters on Tweed Boulevard were treated by medical personnel for debris in their eyes and this afternoon medical crews are on their way back to Tweed Boulevard to treat an apparent victim of smoke inhalation.
The firefighting effort involves manpower and equipment from fire departments throughout Rockland County, with assistance from New Jersey and Westchester, including helicopters. Water was dropped by helicopter on the fire on Thursday and water drops continued today.
When traveling through the area, use caution on Route 303 and Greenbush Road in Orangeburg and on Clausland Mountain Road because of emergency personnel operating throughout the area.
The fire started and first spread from the area of large rock outcropping off of Greenbush Road, known as “TZ Rock” because of its status as a favorite hang out spot for generations of students from nearby Tappan Zee High School. The cause of the fire is still uncertain, but extremely dry conditions on the mountain – and throughout Rockland County – have create a problem with brush fires for weeks.
Additionally, Orangeburg firefighters say they have not had a large brush fire on Clausland Mountain in years, meaning there is much dry, natural debris on the ground to fuel this large fire.
The fire initially affected about 35 acres, but is not believed to have affected hundreds of acres.