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Brush fire chars 4 acres at Gateway National park

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A wind-swept brush fire spread rapidly through a section of Gateway National Recreation Area Friday afternoon, about a quarter mile from a block of modest two-story homes in Howard Beach. Two firefighters were slightly injured.

The blaze, fueled by steady winds and a week of hot, dry weather, charred about four acres of tall weeds in the Spring Creek section of the park before it was put out by firefighters one hour after it had ignited, fire officials said.

“It started out small, but the wind took it,” said U.S. Park Police Lt. Jay Marigliano.

As two fire engines with their ladders extended lined 165th Avenue near 90th Street and sprayed water over the top of the fire, firefighters flanked the blaze from north to east to keep it from spreading, officials said.

“This got contained very quickly,” said Assistant Battalion Chief Wes Schelling. “It was a nice job by the guys.”

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries battling the blaze and were treated at the scene by emergency medical technicians from Jamaica Hospital. One had his eye washed out and both suffered heat exhaustion, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, said Chris Olijnyk, a Gateway refuge operations specialist. “We don’t know what happened,” he said.

“It was a brush fire probably started by kids out of school,” said a Fire Department battalion chief as he walked hurriedly to the park entrance. “All you need is a spark. These things don’t start by themselves.”

Olijnyk said a smaller fire in the area the same morning was likely caused by fireworks.

There have been 19 fires in Gateway National Recreation Area’s 26,000 acres so far this year, Olijnyk said. The park extends into Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and parts of northern New Jersey.

Even though the park is run by the U.S. government, the New York Fire Department fights the fires within its borders on a contract basis.

“They have command of the fire situation,” Olijnyk said. “We work with them under their command.”

As fire engines reeled in their ladders after the blaze had been extinguished, 165th Avenue residents said they did not worry brush fires might sweep in and endanger their homes as was the case in Colorado and Arizona last month.

“Fire doesn’t happen that often. When the weeds are dry, it can happen,” said a woman who gave her name as Jenine. “I like living across from the weeds. There’s no other houses. That’s very important.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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