Gov. Andrew Cuomo, following a tour of the area where wildfires have scorched more than 1,000 acres, destroying homes and other structures along with fire department brush trucks, has declared a state of emergency in Suffolk County.
County Executive Steve Bellone requested the declaration this morning.
The declaration gives the county access to financial assistance from the state Office of Emergency Management. It gives the governor the authority to suspend statutes, rules and regulations that would impede response and recovery activities, as well as the ability to direct state resources, such as firefighting equipment and personnel, to local governments in need.
Cuomo made the announcement at a press conference at the corner of Wading River-Manor Road and River Road, near the area hit hardest by the firestorm.
Flanked by Bellone, as well as state, county and town officials, Cuomo said the wildfires are "contained for the time being." He cautioned that the fire can always flare up again, because it is not yet extinguished and conditions very favorable to the spread of wildfires still exist.
"This could have been much, much worse," the governor said, crediting the response of Manorville and the rest of Suffolk County's volunteer firefighters with preventing a larger tragedy.
"All of the ingredients for a real tragedy were in place. It could have gotten out of control," Cuomo said. "If you didn't have the resources or the personnel, you could have lost control, and when you lose control of a fire this big, it could be very, very bad," he said.
The governor said "a lot of things worked right here" to prevent the fire from getting out of control. "The firefighters were trained for it. The equipment was right. The coordination and the protocols were in place," the governor said.
"But it's not over until it's over, until the last ember is out and until it is, we will be on the scene," the governor said.
The cause of the fire is still unknown and remains under investigation, according to officials.
The county arson squad is investigating every possible lead, Bellone said.
Photo caption: Gov. Andrew Cuomo greets Manorville Fire Chief Elio Zapparrata before a news conference this afternoon near the hardest hit area of Manorville. (Above.)
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl