By Karen Zautyk
A stubborn brush fire, fanned by strong winds, destroyed a large swath of the Kearny meadows last week and felled two firefighters, who required treatment for heat exhaustion.
The Kearny Fire Department was assisted by units from four other companies and by the Kearny Police Department in battling the blaze, which broke out about 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9. It was declared under control at 5 p.m., KFD Chief Steve Dyl reported. By the time it was over, flames had destroyed an area about a mile long and 500 feet wide, authorities reported.
The site was the 1E landfill between the Belleville Pike and the N.J. Turnpike, but this time it did not involve the commercial mulch pile that has had the tendency to burst into flames several times over the last few months.
Dry and windy weather combined to fuel brush fires across the state last week. On the same day as the Kearny blaze, a large brush fire in Ridgefield threatened the Vince Lombardi Service Center on the Turnpike, and others were reported in Carlstadt and Hasbrouck Heights. On Wednesday, another Carlstadt fire was doused before it could spread to nearby MetLife Stadium.
Although there had been some off-and-on rain, mostly drizzles, in this area, “there has not been a lot of soaking rain,” Dyl said last week. “It dries up quick out there [in the meadowlands].”
Part of the problem, he explained, is that the meadows “are not yet in full foliage.” When the flora in the meadows are thick, they help retain moisture in the ground.
But on Tuesday, there were tinderbox conditions.
“With the winds,” Dyl said, “the brush fires take off pretty fast. That day, we had a strong southwest wind.”
Helping the KFD battle the blaze were companies from North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Jersey City and the State Division of Forestry. The incident commander at the scene was KFD Deputy Chief Bruce Kauffmann.
“The Kearny Police Department provided valuable assistance with their all-terrain vehicles,” Dyl noted.
Getting water to the flames was a challenge, since there was only one fire hydrant in the area, on Baler Blvd.
“We had to shuttle water back and forth,” Dyl said. Typically, a fire engine carries 500 to 750 gallons of water, the chief explained. “When that was used up, we had to drive back to the hydrant and fill up again.”
Two firefighters, both from Kearny, required treatment for heat exhaustion and dehydration. One was treated at the scene; the other was transported to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, treated and released.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the N.J. Division of Fire Safety.
While the local firefighters were busy in the meadows, North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue covered the firehouses.