2012 Top Story No. 2: Wildfire rips through the Pine Barrens

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Governor Andrew Cuomo shakes hands with a Ridge firefighter in Calverton April 10.

The largest Long Island wildfire in over a decade burned more than 1,000 acres of forest and property from Ridge to Calverton — with other, smaller fires breaking out in Flanders, Yaphank and elsewhere — during a prolonged dry spell in April.

The larger “Wildfire of 2012” damaged dozens of structures and forced evacuations in neighborhoods along Wading River Manor Road in Manorville. At its peak, a plume of smoke could be seen from much of Suffolk County and Connecticut.

Manorville firefighter Andrew Preli said the fire was like nothing he’s ever seen in his three years of volunteer service.

“I’ve been on a bunch of brush fires,” he said. “Nothing this crazy, nothing this big. It sounded like a train coming through.

“Everywhere I looked something was on fire.”

Firefighters from more than 100 departments across Suffolk and Nassau counties spent over two days bringing the flames under control. One Manorville volunteer, William Hille, 35, suffered severe burns to his face after he and two colleagues had to abandon a brush truck that caught fire in the woods.

The truck was destroyed.

All responders were later honored with a “firefighter appreciation festival” at the Brookhaven Amphitheater, which featured free concerts for volunteers and their families.

Investigators later determined the fire was intentionally set on undeveloped property at the Brookhaven National Laboratory site.

Suffolk County police are offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.

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