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Fast-moving NJ fire forces evacuations

Some 2,500 homes evacuated in Ocean, Burlington counties as wildfire erupts.

BY STAFF REPORT | BARNAGET, N.J. | May 16, 2007


"We're just hoping that the weather cooperates with us in the morning. That's all we're really hoping right now."

—Willie Cirone


A fast-moving wildfire across two New Jersey counties burned 12,000 acres Tuesday night and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes including one nursing home, fire officials said.

The blaze, driven by winds gusts of 30 miles per hour, was burning out of control along the border of Ocean and Burlington counties. At one point, the fire was spreading at two miles an hour and flames jumped roadways.

"We're just hoping that the weather cooperates with us in the morning," said Willie Cirone, deputy public information officer for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. "That's all we're really hoping right now."

Firefighters from Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic and Monmouth counties were battling the blaze into the early morning hours Wednesday. On Tuesday, firefighters used seven fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to try to keep the fire from spreading. Those aircraft were scheduled to take to the air again at 6 a.m. EDT.

The fire has impacted five towns in the two counties, Cirone said.

Six mobile homes in the Pinewood Estates section were damaged or destroyed, he reported. There were no reports of any deaths or injuries.

Several roads, including an eight-mile stretch of Route 72, were closed, officials said, but the Garden State Parkway remained opened. Some Parkway exit ramps were expected to be closed intermittently, along with County Routes 532, 539, and 554 in Stafford Township.

Transportation officials advised motorists to avoid the area if possible.

Initial reports said the fire may have been sparked by a flare from a New Jersey National Guard F-16 that was on a bombing run over the Warren Grove Weapons Range in Ocean County. The fire erupted in mid-afternoon and quickly spread fueled by dry conditions, strong winds and low humidity.

"Once the fire is contained, an investigation will be conducted," Cirone said.

At midnight, Cirone reported "firefighters are out there right now still working on the initial fire and coming up with some alternate plans of controlling the fire."

He said the fire was still burning out of control and that there was no containment. Other reports put a containment figure at between 10 and 15 percent.

He said about 500 people were being housed at an emergency evacuation center. A shelter was set up at Southern Regional High School in Stafford.


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