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Flushing Meadows wildfire worries neighbors

The second brush fire in less than a year in the Flushing Meadows Corona Park area has residents concerned future fires will not just damage wetlands, but cause nearby homes to go up in flames, too.

Although the second−alarm fire Dec. 9 was not as serious as the fire in April, it did wipe out grasses from 77th Avenue to Mauro Playground. The fire occurred by Park Drive East and 72nd Avenue near Jewel Avenue. In April, the fire damaged about 20 acres of wetlands from 72nd to 77th Avenue.

“The grasses were destroyed in the April fire, and cinders and ashes in the air were amazing,” said Susan Cleary, a member of Community Board 8 and representative of the Kew Gardens Hills Tenants Association. “… You have millions of dollars worth of houses all along Park Drive East, and if that fire jumped, if there was a big enough cinder and dry enough conditions, trees would ignite, which would ignite the properties.”

Though helicopters and fire trucks can reach the area, which they did in April, Cleary said it is difficult for the firetrucks to easily enter the area because of the lack of roads into the park. In addition, she said this time fire trucks were staked out along Park Drive East to watch out for any cinders flying into nearby flammable bungalows.

“These are not fireproof buildings, according to my insurance company,” Cleary said of her home and other houses along 78th Avenue. “And the little bungalows across the street, they’re all wood.”

A FDNY representative said in an e−mailed statement that “while access is not the same as the streets, we didn’t have any reported or significant delays in responding and fighting the fire.”

The cause of the fire was “careless discard of smoking materials,” according to the FDNY.

Cleary said she suspects students from the North Queens Community High School in Kew Gardens Hills may be smoking near the area, which could have possibly started the fire.

“I’ve caught four to five youths hanging out behind my building, and they’re smoking something that wasn’t cigarettes,” Cleary said.

City Department of Education representatives were not available for comment.

Cleary and her husband, Paul Norwich, plan to contact school officials about the students smoking in the area, and they also plan to contact city officials about making Flushing Meadows Corona Park friendlier for fire trucks.

“They could make an entrance to park off the Van Wyck Expressway and put a big gravel road,” Cleary said. “A gravel road lets the storm water seep into the ground and it’s not as expensive as putting in a paved road. We’re hoping to suggest to the powers that be that they open up a gate where they can have the fire engines go in, throw their pumpers into the lake and pump water out of the lake.”

Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said “we wouldn’t be against any infrasturucture that would provide greater access or easier accessibility, but what we have to work with now, we make it work.”

“We were able to gain access and fight the fire,” Long said. “It doesn’t have the same inlets or roads that the public streets offer, but we know how to get in there. We’re familiar with the area. Additionally, we have smaller units that we use during brush fires. They’re more compact and are easier to use.”

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