Photo Courtesy Jen and Eric Crane
JEN AND ERIC Crane of Shawanga Lodge Rd. in Bloomingburg were out of the state when they heard about the forest fire in Mamakating and rushed back to find the fire had spread uncomfortably close to their home and those of their neighbors. They took this photo as they approached the Sullivan County border on Route 17.
'I slept with
one eye open'
By Frank Rizzo
WURTSBORO Nearly 400 acres of forest and brush in the Town of Mamakating were consumed this past weekend in a conflagration fought by 30 fire companies from three counties.
It began, according to Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Dick Martinkovic, at about 1 p.m. behind Wurtsboro Airport and, whipped by strong winds, quickly climbed up the mountain ridge. Eventually, it traveled on the other side of the mountain into the Bloomingburg fire district by 3 or 4 p.m.
“It was one of the biggest forest fires we’ve ever had,” said Martinkovic. “That particular area hadn’t burned in 20-30 years.”
There was plenty of fuel for the fire, Martinkovic added, mentioning downed trees and dry grass and leaves.
The most critical period was late Saturday afternoon into the evening, when about 30 homes on Shawanga Lodge Rd. in Bloomingburg were threatened.
“We had fire engines or tankers close to each one of the homes,” Martinkovic said.
One of these homeowners, Eric Crane, was away in Connecticut with his wife Jen when he received a phone call about the fire and rushed back.
The Cranes saw the heavy smoke on the ridge as they came up Route 17, and when he reached his house, which is close to the intersection of Crane Rd., the area was filled with smoke.
“You could see 6-8-foot flames nearby, the wind was crazy,” Crane related.
Two doors down, he witnessed his neighbor’s swing set on fire. There were firefighters and equipment everywhere, and by 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon there were firefighting vehicles on his property and a tanker in his driveway.
“The Rock Hill [department] saved my neighbor’s house,” Crane said. “The flames were fairly close.”
While firefighters were wetting down roofs Crane said fiery embers were falling constantly, and he prepared important papers and other valuables in case he and Jen needed to evacuate.
Occasionally, the smoke was so bad his eyes teared and he pulled his shirt over his face for protection, “but the adrenaline kept me going the only thing you’re thinking is saving the house.”
Martinkovic said that by early evening firefighters had doused the flames near the homes and the threat had passed.
That night, fire officials told Crane he could leave, or, if he chose to stay, he needed to wet down his roof some more.
“I slept with one eye open,” Crane said. “There was a skylight behind me and the sky was glowing orange. I didn’t sleep well that night.”
Crane spent several hours on Sunday driving his ATV around and pouring water from a 5-gallon bucket on the hot spots.
“It was still hot, near the edge of the break where they stopped the fire,” he said.
That night, according to Martinkovic, about 20 New York State Forest Rangers arrived to help with firefighting efforts, staying throughout the night as the fire continued to burn.
The next morning officials met at a command post at the Wurtsboro Firehouse as about 20 fire companies continued to battle the blaze, which came under control later in the day.
Martinkovic praised the efforts of all the firefighters, as well as State Police personnel and Sheriff’s deputies, who assisted with traffic control. In addition, a State Police helicopter dumped water on the fire.
Crane had a first-hand look at the firefighters’ efforts.
“They deserve the credit,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, 30 homes probably would have been lost. The only paid department is Middletown… if this had happened on a weekday, when all these guys are working…”
“It was one of the scariest days I’ve ever experienced,” Crane concluded.