A state Department of Environmental Conservation vehicle transporting 50 pheasants to the Otis Pike Preserve in Calverton caught fire on Middle Country Road at about 5:30 Monday evening.

The driver and a passenger in the eastbound truck were not injured, but a “good number” of the fowl perished in the blaze, Wading River Fire Department First Assistant Chief Mark Donnelly said. Many pheasants escaped from the burning truck into nearby wooded areas on the Calverton National Cemetery and Calverton Enterprise Park sites on either side of the road, he said.

The DEC raises pheasants for hunting stock on a farm near Ithaca. The state agency provides about 30,000 pheasants annually for fall stocking programs at more than 100 DEC-managed hunting lands.

“They went off into their natural habitat,” Donnelly said.

The birds were going to be released for hunting at the Otis Pike Preserve, the chief said. The DEC stocks the preserve with pheasants throughout the small game hunting season, which runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, according to the state DEC website.

The truck’s gas tank was compromised by the intensity of the heat and gave way, spilling a quantity of gasoline onto the roadway, Donnelly said. The spilt gasoline immediately caught fire, creating a stream of flames along the side of the road. About a dozen responding volunteer firefighters quickly doused the blaze.

The driver of the truck was alerted by another motorist that his vehicle was on fire, Donnelly said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Riverhead fire marshal, he said.


Top photo caption: Burning gasoline streams down Middle Country Road in Calverton near the national cemetery after a state DEC truck transporting pheasant stock to the Otis Pike Preserve caught fire Monday evening, killing many of the fowl on board. (Courtesy photo)


Video courtesy of Dave Lotito

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.