The stubborn fires that have burned beneath the ruins of the World Trade Center for the past three months are finally out, officials said Wednesday.

But fire department officials said they would not rule out the possibility that small pockets might still be discovered. A firetruck remains on standby at the site.

The fires that began with the Sept. 11 attacks had been strong enough that firetrucks had to spray a nearly constant jet of water on them. At times, the flames slowed the work of clearing the site.

"You couldn't even begin to imagine how much water was pumped in there," said Tom Manley of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the largest fire department union. "It was like you were creating a giant lake."

For months, the fires sent acrid clouds of smoke that could be smelled at times several miles away in Brooklyn and upper Manhattan.

The smoldering fires were fueled by such things as documents and office furniture. Flare-ups would occur from time to time as demolition and rescue crews exposed the debris to the air.

"There might be some pockets still burning, but we consider the fire to be out," fire department spokesman Brian Dixon said Wednesday, confirming comments earlier in the day by the governor.

Gov. George Pataki told a group of about 50 upstate elected officials during a tour of the disaster site that the fires had been extinguished.

Pataki also said that clearing the site is expected to take six to nine more months, with work focused on the seven floors of compacted rubble underground.

For the 75 firefighters working at the site daily, knocking the fires down makes the job of finding human remains a bit easier.

"It'll be a lot less of a hindrance now since the smoke's not there," Manley said. "But the emotional state stays exactly the same. Just being down there is emotional."