U.S. East Coast Wildfires Whipped Up by Winds

NEW YORK, April 10 (Reuters) - Raging wildfires fueled by strong winds scorched thousands of acres (hundreds of hectares) in New Jersey and on New York's Long Island on Tuesday as firefighters scrambled aircraft to contain the blazes.

A snowless winter and dry spring have transformed the New York City metropolitan area into a tinderbox, with recent strong winds fanning the flames, authorities said.

Wildfires were also reported in several states along the eastern seaboard.

On eastern Long Island, where officials declared a state of emergency, three sections within a 2,000-acre (809 hectares) area were burning. But a fire was extinguished on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Lab, a nuclear physics facility about 70 miles (113 km) east of New York City, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference.

In southern New Jersey, a blaze persisted in a 1,000-acre (405 hectares) area of the picturesque Pine Barrens but was contained on the firing range at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, where it scorched 300 acres (121 hectares).

With winds predicted to strengthen later in the day, firefighters on Long Island rushed to complete water drops from aircraft scouting the fire.

"We're trying to get water dropped on those hot spots before the wind picks up," saidNew York's Commissioner of Homeland Security Jerry Hauer.

"This has caused damage to homes, it has caused evacuations," said Hauer, noting theRed Cross set up overnight shelters and the National Guard was on standby.

Three firefighters were injured battling New York's Suffolk County blaze, including one badly burned when he dashed through flames that suddenly encircled the fire engine in a wooded area, torching it, Bellone said.

"There here have been nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) affected by fire," said Bellone. He said three homes and one commercial building were destroyed.

"I have declared a state of emergency in Suffolk County," Bellone said at the news conference.

The causes of the fires in both states were under investigation.

In New Jersey, military firefighters succeeded in containing the fire on the base and were concentrating on putting out hot spots as they cropped up during the day, said Staff Sergeant David Carbajal.

The Pine Barrens fire was about 75 percent contained and firefighters also were focusing on 33 smaller fires of 10 acres (4 hectares) or less burning throughoutsouthern New Jersey, said Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the New JerseyDepartment of Environmental Protection.

In Florida, 89 wildfires affecting nearly 16,000 acres (6,470 hectares) were burning, according to the Florida Forest Service website. That included 18 fires of more than 100 acres (40 hectares) each and one of over 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) in the Osceola National Forest near the Georgia border.

The U.S. Forest Service was also tracking fires on forest lands in Pennsylvania,Virginia and West Virginia, according to its website. (Editing by Vicki Allen)

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