Fire department crews are working overnight to battle a wind-fueled compost fire that started on a compost pile at the the former Fresh Kills landfill and delayed traffic in the borough for hours Monday.
Officials say just before noon, the fire started on one of the mounds the Sanitation Department is working to cap inside the old dump.
While the cause of the fire was still under investigation late Monday, FDNY officials suspected the mulch pile spontaneous combusted.
No injuries have been reported, but payloaders, a water truck and some building were damaged, according to fire officials.
Residents who live near the site of the fire are also warned to limit their time outdoors.
A warm, dry winter and a very wet summer because of Tropical Storm Irene increased the likelihood of combustible compost piles. Monday's dry weather, low humidity and high wind gusts also increased risk of fires.
"I believe a lot of the compost came from the hurricane back in September and the problem is we had no snow to cover it. So you had deep-seeded fires in these heavy winds, each pile ignited," said FDNY Deputy Chief Roger Sakowich.
Fresh Kills is roughly three times the size of Central Park and surrounded by many local roadways, including Richmond Avenue.
At one point Monday, the West Shore Expressway was closed in both directions and smoke could be seen for miles.
Lanes have since reopened but heavy traffic lasted through the night.
Motorists rolled up their windows to drive through the cloud of smoke.
"Mayhem for the fire department. It's windy and I guess it makes it a little harder to control any kind of fire," said one driver.
"I'm used to bad traffic being on Staten Island but it's especially bad today," said another. "With this brush fire, it's just total nightmare. Something that would take two blocks takes in like 20 blocks to go around."
Shoppers who spoke with NY1 at the Staten Island Mall said they were not sure what was happening.
"I thought the mall was on fire, I got really scared. My son called me and he was supposed to pick me up but he got stuck in the middle of all this on the highway, said one shopper.
"It smells like a forest fire," said another.
Crews battled another brushfire on Arthur Kill Road in Port Mobil on Monday afternoon, but that fire was quickly brought under control.
Monday's wind gusts also caused delays in local airports.