Brush fire that destroyed 167 acres in NJ set ‘intentionally’: officials

New Jersey
Aftermath of NJ brush fire

Emergency personnel work near a commercial building that was damaged by fire in Lakewood, N.J., Monday, March 15, 2021. A large brush fire in New Jersey on Sunday afternoon shut down a portion of the Garden State Parkway, damaged two commercial buildings and forced some residents to evacuate homes and stores, as several smaller blazes burned across the state on the dry, windy day, authorities said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A forest fire near the Jersey Shore that burned at least 167 acres of land, shut down the Garden State Parkway, damaged dozens of residential properties, sent neighbors fleeing and led to a firefighter’s hospitalization due to cardiac arrest was set “intentionally,” according to prosecutors in Ocean County Friday.

“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set,” county prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said.

The investigation remains ongoing and no arrests have been made.

“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated,” Billhimer added, noting that three homeless people had to be rescued from the blaze. “It is only by the grace of God that no one was killed.”

Lakewood police said the brush fire was first reported on Airport Road around 1:22 p.m. and spread south, reaching around 75 acres by 5:30 p.m. this past Sunday.

By 10:30 p.m., NJ Forest Fire Services said the blaze had burned up to 170 acres.

It started in Lakewood Township, jumped the Garden State Parkway and reached into Brick Township, NJ Forest Fires Officer Maris Gabliks said.

The Garden State Parkway reopened late Sunday night after being closed in both directions in the area earlier in the day.

Route 528, Route 70 and all other ramps also reopened late Sunday, officials said.

Ray Bukowski, an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Protection, called the blaze “a very, very near catastrophe. We were very fortunate in avoiding any more damage that what occurred.”

DEP spokesperson Caryn Shinske said two mixed-use office buildings were destroyed, along with eight smaller buildings, and additional structures and property were damaged as well. McLaughlin said numerous sheds and fences were damaged, and siding was melted on numerous houses facing the flames, but no homes were uninhabitable, officials said.

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