ALTONA — A wildfire is raging over 328 acres in Altona Flat Rock, with a massive effort underway to stem its tide.
The blaze was still miles away from any structure on Friday, and no evacuations were in the works, said Eric Day, director of Clinton County Emergency Services.
At least 20 fire departments are involved in the continuing efforts to control the blaze, which started out as a 60-acre fire when it was first reported to Clinton County Dispatch at about 1 p.m. Thursday.
About 120 people are fighting the fire from multiple directions, including the Altona Fire Department and 18 other departments from Clinton County, northern Vermont and southern Quebec. Three other fire departments are covering the Altona Fire Station.
About 10 State Police officers, 25 Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers and inmate and town crews are also pitching in, along with two Huey helicopters equipped with 300-gallon buckets to drop water on the blaze.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent eight National Guard soldiers and two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, which are on standby, each equipped with a 660-gallon Bambi bucket.
The Flat Rock area is thick with underbrush, blueberry bushes and jack pines, all of which are dry and prone to fire, said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
The area has traditionally burned every few years, but the last time it caught fire was about eight or nine years ago, which means there’s more vegetation to fuel the fire, he said.
The hot weather is also complicating the firefighting effort.
“If you’re out this weekend camping and have a fire, just please be careful,” Day said.
“We don’t need to be out battling something else like this somewhere else when we have all these resources here.
“If you’re traveling through the area, please be on the lookout for emergency vehicles.”
Law enforcement has closed multiple roads in the area as smoke blows across and engulfs them.
“That may change,” Day said. “It comes and goes, and I can’t tell you exactly where it is. It depends on the wind and different conditions.
“If you’re traveling through this area, please be aware of the potential for smoke.”
Rock Road has been closed so emergency vehicles can use it as an access point to the fire, Day said.
View from above
County officials coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday for an aerial survey of the fire, using an Air Branch fixed-wing aircraft, Day said.
That sky-high look at that time determined the fire covered about 62 acres in size.
Forest rangers and Altona Fire officers worked with the county to establish a command post at the Altona Fire Station.
“Fire departments, working in connection with forest rangers and NYS Police Aviation Branch helicopters, worked the east and west flanks of the growing fire until 9 p.m. at which time it became too dark to safely work the fire on the Flat Rock,” Day said.
“Fire department crews, working in lockstep with forest rangers, worked fire lines with hand tools and chainsaws and also with brush trucks hauling water into the woods to wet the fire line,” Day said.
Bulldozers from the towns of Altona and Mooers and Todd Deyo Construction contributed to the effort.
Inmate hand crews were also what Day described as “a full-court press to work the fire.”
Water was being brought in from nearby Dead Sea and Miner Lake.
The Salvation Army was delivering snacks and water to the crews.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
“Right now, our job is to knock the fire down,” Seggos said. “We’ll do the forensics after.”
Citizens in the area should know that the best resources in the state are there working to squelch the flames, he said.
“We’re going to stay on this until the job is done.
“It is scary to have a large plume of smoke behind you, but our teams are well experienced in how to fight these fires.
“We’re going to adjust our resources to keep the public safe.”