By Nicholas Rizzi and Wil Cruz
STATEN ISLAND — FDNY officials said it could take days before the massive brush fire at Fresh Kills Landfill is snuffed out.
Fanned by high winds, the five-alarm blaze, which erupted in several 15-foot high piles of mulch at the shuttered dump about 11 a.m. Monday, generated a wall of smoke that was visible for miles and slowed nearby traffic to a crawl, officials said.
As of Monday evening, the fire was only 50 percent contained. An estimated 200 firefighters battled the blaze, which spread to roughly a square mile, as winds up to 30 mph made the flames difficult to contain, officials said.
"It's going to take a long time," FDNY Chief Michael Marrone, said of containing the fire. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're here for a couple of days."
No one was injured, fire officials said.
Officials believe the inferno started spontaneously — because of a dry spring — in compost piles near the West Shore Expressway and the Staten Island Mall, officials said.
It was not in the landfill itself, but rather in piles of densely packed mulch, mostly comprised of Christmas trees and trees felled by the summer's tropical storm, Irene, according to FDNY officials.
"It was several pieces of mulch that lit on fire," Marrone said. "By the time we got here, it was burning in several different spots." The fire, he said: "just kept burrowing deeper and deeper."
Deputy Fire Chief Roger Sakowich emphasized the wind's hampering effects on controlling the fire, saying, "You couldn't walk in front of that wind."
Fire officials downplayed concerns about chemicals from the inferno since it was mostly composting trees that were burning. There may, however, have been some chemicals released by tires that ignited on some Department of Sanitation, officials said.
A few buildings at the site also caught fire but were not seriously damaged, officials added.
Fire officials do not expect arson, they said.
The Fresh Kills site is set to be transformed into a public park over the next 30 years. The site was also used as a sorting ground for human remains after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The inferno on Monday was the second large fire on Staten Island on Monday. Firefighters battled a four-alarm fire that ripped through two houses in West New Brighton early Monday.