BARNEGAT, NJ — Barnegat Township officials have come up with a simple plan that could turn out to be a lifesaver for residents of two Route 72 age-restricted manufactured home communities.

“Brighton at Barnegat and Pinewood Estates have only one egress on each of their properties,” explained Barnegat Police Lieutenant Jeff Ryan. “If they’re threatened by a fire, and we bring in emergency vehicles and apparatus, we could have a real traffic jam as we’re trying to fight the fire and get people out at the same time.”

Ryan worked on a solution with Deputy Mayor Al Cirulli to widen an existing path and create an alternate means for emergency evacuation.

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Barnegat Township Public Works Department will soon begin clearing the path located on the Pinewoods Estates property. The project requires the removal of a couple of dead trees and assorted brush and provides a connection between Brighton and Pinewood.

According to Ryan, the path will remain unpaved and padlocked to avoid everyday use. Emergency personnel will have exclusive access to opening the road in case of any necessary evacuation.

The direction of the fire acts to determine whether Brighton or Pinewood residents will cut through the access path to exit through the neighboring community onto Route 72.

“Wildfire danger is something we know as a reality here in Barnegat,” Cirulli said. “We value the safety of all of our residents and wanted to create more than one way in and out of both communities in the case of an emergency.”

A 2007 fire raged through thousands of acres and multiple towns, including Barnegat. Flames made their way into the Route 72 manufactured home communities, leaving five homes destroyed.

Authorities dubbed the rapidly spreading inferno the “Warren Grove Fire” based on its origin. The United States Air Force paid Barnegat $83,464 in 2012 towards the cost of fighting the wildfire. Investigators determined the blaze started when a flare thrown from an F-16 ignited in the Pinelands.

“I was working back then when it happened,” shared Ryan. “ One of the worst problems was stubborn residents wasted resources due to officers having to negotiate with these residents to leave their houses during evacuations.”

Both Brighton and Pinewood management teams have signed off on the new emergency access path.

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