The smell of thick, black, wood smoke stuck in the throat as it billowed high into the afternoon sky. Flames threaded across the crest of the Shawangunk Ridge, and the sound of helicopter blades droned on for hours. From Cragsmoor’s quaint Stone Church, the view across the ridge look something like a war zone.
For a third day on Monday, more than 200 emergency crew members responded to a wildfire at Sam’s Point Preserve in Minnewaska State Park.
The fire claimed more than 800 acres by Monday afternoon as it spread northward across the ridge, said Eric Humphrey, park manager at Minnewaska State Park. The size of the fire, which began about 2:15 p.m. Saturday near a trail at Verkeerderkill Falls, had more than doubled since Sunday afternoon.
“We’re seeing 35-40-foot flames out of the treetops,” Humphrey said late Monday afternoon. “We expect to see high smoke conditions for days to come.”
As of Monday afternoon no homes were in danger, but crews were taking precautions to protect property.
Scores of crew members from the state Department of Environmental Conservation; Division of Homeland Security; Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; New York State Police; Office of Fire Prevention and Control and Office of Emergency Management were assisting nearly 115 volunteer firefighters from more than 20 local fire departments, Humphrey said.
Two state police helicopters had been conducting water-dropping operations almost nonstop during daylight hours since Saturday, dumping 250 gallons of water apiece at every pass.
Crews set up staging areas at the Sam’s Point Welcome Center, at the Cragsmoor firehouse and along Mandell Road in Pine Bush.
A crew of about eight DEC members collapsed in exhaustion in a field off Mandell Road Extension, beneath the curtain of grey smoke along the eastern side of the ridge. They guzzled water and wolfed down sandwiches from brown paper bags, supplied by volunteers at the Cragsmoor firehouse.
Andrew Bajardi, chief ranger at Mohonk Preserve, said crews were keeping their fingers crossed for rain, which was forecast for Monday night and Tuesday.
“The weather has not really been working in our favor so far,” Bajardi said. “We’re going to keep proceeding as if the rain is not coming, and we won’t breathe easier until it does.”
Adjacent to the field where Bajardi and his crew members stopped for a brief rest, Jerry and Lana Privitera sat on their deck, watching the fire.
“Every two minutes, I’m turning my head to make sure it’s not coming this way,” Lana Privitera said.
The couple have lived in Pine Bush for five years and own a bagel shop in Montgomery. They hadn’t spoken with the nearby state crew, but left bagels for them in the bed of truck as they worked in the woods, creating fire breaks along the old logging roads.
“I think everyone is extremely happy that we’re here, protecting their property,” Bajardi said.