Citing imminent danger from a week-long fire burning on a property along Jericho Turnpike, the moved to contain the threat by declaring a state of emergency Monday and trucking out tons of mulch, logs and debris from land owned by John and Wayne Dougal.
Supervisor signed the order and crews from Laser Industries began the removal process by 8 a.m. A steady rumble of heavy trucks and equipment moved up and down Plainview Road and Orchard Drive – along the Town border with Woodbury – to get at the smoldering pile, estimated by the Town to be 300 by 200 feet wide and up to 60 feet high.
“The fire is burning as we speak under the pile,” Huntington Chief Fire Marshal Terence McNally said at a press conference outside the property. McNally said smoke blanked the area Saturday morning, creating a health hazard for nearby residents and firefighters.
The responded to calls at least six times in the last week, according to McNally. Windy, dry conditions have stoked fires throughout Long Island in recent weeks, including a at West Hills County Park.
But the week-long slow burn at 1130 West Jericho Turnpike simply heated up an already between Huntington officials .
“When the fires could not be abated and the ordinary legal process did not suffice,” Councilman said, “it was the Supervisor’s determination to declare a state of emergency and not run the risk that something happens while we’re in court trying to work this out.”
The cost of the debris removal will be added to the property’s tax bill, Cutherbertson noted. And the removal process, to a private facility in the Town of Brookhaven, will likely take weeks.
McNally said storage of the material at the Dougal property did not meet Town code, from height restrictions to how it must be sorted. Natural decomposition of material led to spontaneous combustion.
“It’s a nuisance fire,” McNally said. “Without heavy equipment pulling it apart there are constantly exposed areas that then get more oxygen [and stoke the fire]. You have to constantly keep on top of.”
The Town contends the owners, who run a farm on the parcel, have been illegally using the property as a wood chipping and mulching business. The Town filed a restraining order April 3.
The order, signed by a state Supreme Court judge, prevents Big Dougs Enterprises, Indian Head Ranch and Wayne and John Dougal from operating a wood chipping and mulching business at the location.
A manager at the company told Patch the family-owned business was shut down last week by town officials but the case is not over yet.
"We are going back to court Thursday," said Eric Murray, the stepson of business owner John Dougal.
The Town brought two court actions in 2011 seeking to shut down all activities that violate Town Code, including the wood chipping and mulching operation and a horse farm. According to Town spokesman A.J. Carter, judges denied the Town’s requests for temporary restraining orders and injunctions that would have stopped both uses.
The cases seeking permanent rulings on the Town’s allegation continue and have been joined so they are heard together, Carter noted. The Town is still awaiting a ruling on the permanent request.
Meanwhile, the Town Board approved the rezoning of the property in January 2011 to allow construction of the Kensington Estates luxury senior housing development. After a delay while the buyer and seller of the property filed the necessary covenants and restrictions, the local law enacting the zone change was filed with the New York Secretary of State on April 1, 2011. The proposal is currently undergoing site plan review by the Town.
Rich Jacques contributed to this report.