Rare New Jersey wildfire ‘was intentionally set,’ investigators say

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“It is only by the grace of God that no one was killed,” Ocean County prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said.

A rare wildfire that burned about 167 acres in New Jersey on Sunday and left one firefighter critically injured was intentionally set, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.

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

The fire started around 1:15 p.m. Sunday at the intersection near Airport Road and Cedarbridge Avenue in Lakewood, about 47 miles east of Trenton. The blaze quickly spread across the Garden State Parkway amid low humidity and 20 mph winds, forcing officials to evacuate nearby residents, according to the statement.

Firefighters from over 30 fire departments worked through the night to contain the blaze. They also saved three homeless people living in the woods from the advancing fire, Billhimer said. The fire was deemed under control 24 hours later.

Evacuated residents were able to return home Monday evening, officials said. The Garden State Parkway was partially closed Sunday, but reopened Monday morning, according to the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

A firefighter from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service suffered cardiac arrest while battling the blaze. He was taken to a hospital Monday and is currently stable, the prosecutor’s office said.

“Numerous residences and commercial properties were damaged and hundreds of people were evacuated. It is only by the grace of God that no one was killed,” Billhimer said, adding that their investigation remains “active and ongoing.”