OCEAN COUNTY, NJ — A massive wildfire fire that shut down the Garden State Parkway last Sunday afternoon, March 14 was intentionally set, according to officials.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer said that several agencies collaborated in the investigation of the wildfire, which blazed through about 167 acres of woodlands along the Brick and Lakewood border.
“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set,” said Billhimer in a March 19 statement offering no further elaboration on the ongoing investigation and whether authorities have identified any suspects involved in the incident.
“It is only by the grace of God that no one was killed.”
— Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer
The N.J. Forest Fire Service Observation Tower in Lakewood first reported a wildland fire in the area of Cedarbridge Avenue and Airport Road in Lakewood at approximately 1:15 pm. Less than an hour later, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office sent out a Nixle alert, indicating the Garden State Parkway was shut down in both directions from mile markers 83 through 90.
Fires raged through the surrounding areas fueled by high wind gusts, making it difficult to contain the blaze. Authorities denied access to the Parkway between exit 80 and 91. The roadway did not reopen until 9:30 p.m. Northbound entrances to Route 70 were closed until the following morning.
According to Billhimer, the fire was finally deemed under control on Monday, March 15 by about 1 p.m.
“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated, said Billhimer. “We have a firefighter that suffered cardiac arrest while battling this fire. Three homeless people living in the woods were saved from the advancing fire.”
Some questioned whether the fire began as a result of controlled burns conducted in Ocean County in the last few weeks. However, that was not the case, as firefighters avoid prescribed burns when winds are high as fires can take on a weather system of their own, said fire officials.
Several homes in Brick sustained damage as a result of the ravaging wildfires, which also caused structural issues on a number of commercial properties. Authorities arranged for the evacuation of hundreds of people to divert them to safety.
Belmar’s Goodwill Hose Co. was among a large contingent of state, county local fire companies and departments from throughout Ocean and Monmouth Counties that were part of the massive firefighting effort.
Anyone with information about the fire is urged to contact Sgt. Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-929-2027, ext. 3953.
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