Firefighters recall fear and pride 20 years after wildfires swept through eastern Long Island

Twenty years after a massive wildfire spread through eastern Long Island, firefighters who fought the flames recount the challenges and devastation. Firefighters mobilized on August

Firefighters from the East Meadow Fire Department take a break on Aug. 25, 1995. They are, from left, Scott Farber, Bob Duggan, Mike Baumann, Chris Sala and Walter Griffin.

Firefighters from the East Meadow Fire Department take a break on Aug. 25, 1995. They are, from left, Scott Farber, Bob Duggan, Mike Baumann, Chris Sala and Walter Griffin. (8/20/15)

Twenty years after a massive wildfire spread through eastern Long Island, firefighters who fought the flames recount the challenges and devastation.

Firefighters mobilized on August 24, 1995 to extinguish the flames and keep residents safe.  However, they knew from the beginning that it was going to be a massive undertaking.  Paul Massey, of the Eastport Fire Department, was one of the first firefighters to wrestle the intense heat and thick smoke.

"The fire got into the tree tops and jumped over the truck we had," says Massey of his experience in the burning Pine Barrens.

Another firefighter, Richard Van Tassle from the Westhampton Fire Department, recalls being completely surrounded by the flames.  "When the fire got to us we were like in a tunnel of fire just completely engulfed," he recalls.

Despite the frightening moments and hardships, firefighters also remember the community coming together to boost their spirits amid the intense heat and sky-high flames.  

"An older couple from Bay Shore came," says Dean Culver, of the Westhampton Fire Department.  "They had driven all the way out here and they had made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

In the end, there is an enduring sense of pride among those who fought the flames.  For Van Tassle, pride is the overwhelming emotion when he thinks of that day. 

"I was proud to be there and I was proud to do what I could do."

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