BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Some 100 firefighters took about four hours to extinguish a huge brush fire along Route 78 this afternoon.
Deputy Fire Chief Jim Hopkins said the department got a call at 2:05 p.m. reporting multiple brush fires along westbound Interstate 78. When the first engine arrived at 2:15 p.m., firefighters "found a very large area of brush burning west of Diamond Hill Road, between 78 and Circleview Avenue," he said. He estimated that when the first firefighters arrived an area of between eight and 10 acres was burning.
"When we arrived there, all I saw was fire and smoke all the way up the hill," he said. The big concern was the fire was advancing up the hill near homes up there. Hopkins said he ran up the hill and found it was "two hundred to three hundred feet from the top."
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The fire was advancing east, toward Ghost Pony Road, being pushed by the winds and "getting ahead of us quickly," Hopkins said. Union County Mutual Aid sent five or six companies up there on to protect developments as the left flank of the fire was burning up to Circleview Avenue and towards Swenson Circle.
"The wind shifted on us a couple of times," which was good, because the fire was being forced back to areas it had already burned, he said.
Firefighters from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service responded, "as did four tenders, trucks that carry a lot of water, 14 engine companies, along with five or six brush units and two ladder trucks," said Hopkins. Elizabeth, Hillside, Cranford, Springfield, Westfield, Watchung and Warren responded, as did other companies. He didn't have a complete list of fire companies that responded, but expected to have that information later tonight or tomorrow.
Multiple emergency services agencies from many towns, including Berkeley Heights Volunteer Rescue Squad, New Providence and Summit sent rigs and personnel to help with firefighter rehabilitation.
There was concern that Runnell's might be threatened by the fire, and "we had companies check" the hospital area. "It never got there, but we just wanted to be sure everyone was safe," he said.
All units were finally cleared at 6:10 p.m. The cause is still unknown, but is under investigation by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
There were no weather warnings about fire today. "It spread quickly and got aead of us so quickly. It got very large, very fast and it was very hard for us to determine where it was going and what it was threatening," Hopkins said.