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BABYLON, N.Y. (AP) — Firefighters faced howling winds and pelting snow Thursday as they tried to reach a remote barrier island south of Long Island and the two unoccupied summer vacation homes on fire, a volunteer fire chief said. But the treacherous conditions slowed their response and by the time they got there, the homes had burned to the ground.

“We had a hell of a time getting over there, you know, with the storm,” Babylon Fire Chief Scott Glenn said of the attempts to reach Oak Island.

The island is situated in the Great South Bay, nearly 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of famed Jones Beach State Park, and is only accessible by boat.

It is also about 11 miles (17 kilometers) south of the village of Babylon, requiring firefighters to cross a bridge over the bay and onto Jones Beach Island, just to get close. Glenn said state, town and village snow plows assisted in clearing the roads to allow firetrucks to get to a staging area in a parking lot near the island. The staging area was still several hundred yards from the island, and the bay was frozen over, he said.

Long Island was one of many places on the East Coast that was under a state of emergency as a massive winter snowstorm slammed states from Florida to Maine.

Officials had to use a hovercraft so that four firefighters could jump in and cross over to Oak Island to assess the situation. It was not immediately clear how long the entire process to access the island took.

“There was no reason for us to make a full effort to safely do a firefighting thing,” Glenn said. He determined that no other homes were in danger of being exposed to fire, so they let the fires burn themselves out.

He said he planned to return in the next day or so with officials from the town fire marshal’s office to try and determine a cause of the fire.

This story has been corrected to show two houses were destroyed, not three.