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Brushfires plague meadows

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By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent

Last week’s windy weather, combined with dry conditions in the meadowlands, kept local firefighters busy with brushfires, including three within one day.

On Wednesday, the first blaze was reported at 12:30 p.m. along the N.J. Turnpike in Kearny. Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl noted that it was a small one and, despite the winds, was “under control quickly.”

But as soon as that was quenched, a much larger brushfire was reported at 12:46 p.m. near Rt. 280 along the Harrison-Kearny border — and there, Dyl noted, “the wind played a major role,” with 35-45 mph gusts spreading the flames.

Crews from Harrison, Kearny, East Newark and Secaucus responded.

Harrison Fire Director Harold Stahl said that fighting this fire, which began behind the Worthington Pump works, was complicated by the high winds that extended the flames across the railroad tracks to other sections of meadows.

“The buffalo grass and various deposits in the marshes readily catch fire,” Stahl said.

Dyl noted that when the flames jumped the tracks, they consumed railroad ties “and got into the brush near the PATH yards” along the Passaic River.

Stahl said another complication was the lack of hydrants in the meadows area, prompting a call to the North Bergen Fire Department for its water tanker truck to help with firefighting efforts

PATH, NJ Transit and Amtrak were all forced to temporarily suspend service along their respective lines due to the blaze.

Firefighter Steve Fostek, public information officer for the Harrison FMBA, noted that an additional obstacle to the crews on scene “was a telephone pole with live wires [that] burned and fell into the fire area causing a delay, as fire personnel had to wait for PSE&G to cut the power.”

Dyl said the fire was declared under control at 2:45 p.m. But that didn’t end the day.

At 5:07 p.m., yet another brushfire broke out, along the railroad embankment at the rear of Cali Carting, 450 Bergen Ave., Kearny. Kearny and Harrison both responded to that blaze and had it knocked down by 5:22 p.m.

Later that night, shortly after 11 p.m., the KFD responded to the U.S. Postal facility at 850 Newark Turnpike, where two cars were reported ablaze in the parking lot. The cause of that fire is under investigation, but Dyl noted the high winds were also a factor in that call. Wind-whipped flames were threatening another vehicle, but serious damage to it was prevented, the chief said.

On Thursday, Kearny and Harrison were back in brushfire mode, battling one off Harrison Ave., at the Rt. 280 ramp to the Turnpike. That one broke out shortly after 3 p.m. and was under control by 3:45. However, it forced the closure of Harrison Ave. for about two hours, east from the Bergen Ave. extension, causing what Dyl called “major traffic problems.”

No injuries were reported in any of the blazes.

During the Wednesday fire near the rail lines, the Jersey City and Bayonne fire departments provided backup coverage to Kearny and Harrison, and Jersey City was again on standby Thursday.

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