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Chief Certain Fires Are ‘Criminal’ 

Suffolk police and Dix Hills fire officials are split on whether several fires were intentionally set in Dix Hills last weekend. Pictured is the first fire on Oct. 26, between Bonaire Drive and Commack Road, taken from a resident’s home.

Alan Schwartz woke up in the middle of the night last Saturday, looked outside his window and saw a raging fire in the woods behind his backyard. Schwartz quickly realized that he awoke from his dreams to a real life nightmare.

The fire that broke out in the early morning of Oct. 26 marked the first of three fires that were “intentionally set” in the Half Hollow Hills area, Dix Hills Fire Chief Tom Magno said Friday.

According to Magno, about 10 fires were set in a span of three days across a strip of woods bordering Commack Road behind Pine Hill Drive and Euclid Avenue.

“They were intentionally set; you usually don’t get fires back to back in the same areas and hours after each other. It’s not a common occurrence, so I highly suspect it was being lit by someone,” Magno said. “It’s 100-percent criminal.”

Suffolk County police public information officials said Monday that the fires were deemed “non-criminal” and that detectives closed the files on the fire cases. The Suffolk police arson squad, the official said, was notified about the fires but crime detectives considered them standard “fire investigations” caused by dry conditions, traceable as brush fires.

Riva Schwartz, who lives with her husband Alan on Bonaire Drive in Dix Hills, said the pair woke at 4 a.m. on Oct. 26 and at 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 27 to “raging, blazing” fires within several feet of their backyard. One foot closer and the fire would have spread to her fence, cabana and backyard property, Schwartz said.

At first, Riva Schwartz said she thought the Saturday morning blaze was an isolated, freak occurrence, but the subsequent fires days later seemed to disprove her theory.

Some of the fires, despite starting in the early hours of the morning, required firemen to remain on site for three to four hours into the morning, as dead leaves and trees in the wooded pine area continued to smolder.

“It’s pretty scary; I’m really concerned there’s an arsonist out there and they’re going to continue… I’m not sleeping through the night,” Riva Schwartz said days after the last reported fire.

All was quiet from Oct. 27 to the morning of Monday, Oct. 28, Schwartz said, but when she and her husband returned home around 10 p.m. Monday evening, she found fire department volunteers were back, this time fighting a fire down the road in the very same stretch of woods.

About 15-20 volunteer firefighters responded to the blazes last week. In the event of another fire, the Dix Hills chief said residents should be vigilant and immediately dial 911.

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