Firefighters are still working Monday morning to contain a major forest fire in Ocean County that destroyed commercial buildings in Lakewood, damaged more than two dozen homes in neighboring Brick and left one firefighter critically injured.
The fire will affect the morning commute as the ramp from eastbound Route 70 to the Garden State Parkway is still closed, according to the state Department of Transportation. The two right lanes of Route 70 west at Shorrock Street in Lakewood are also closed and detours remain in place. The Garden State Parkway was closed in both directions Sunday as the blaze jumped the highway, but has since been reopened.
As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday more than 170 acres were still burning with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service saying it planned to continue fighting the fire overnight. Dozens of homes and nearby Brick businesses were evacuated, though residents began returning Sunday evening.
“The New Jersey Forest Fire Service will continue suppression, patrol and mop-up operations throughout the night and support from local fire companies will be scaled back throughout Sunday night as containment increases,” the forest fire service said. “The origin has been identified and the cause is under investigation, though we can state it was not from a prescribed burn as reported inaccurately online.”
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service couldn’t immediately be reached Monday morning for additional updates.
High winds and low humidity contributed to the spread of the blaze.
Twenty of New Jersey’s 21 counties remain under a red flag warning until 5 p.m. Monday as northwest winds of 10 to 20 mph are expected to gust as high as 30 mph, the National Weather Service said. Low humidity of 10 to 20 percent mean conditions are still conducive to wildfires with the NWS noting, “any fires that develop may quickly get out of control and become difficult to contain.”
No rain is in the forecast for Monday and there’s only a slight chance of rain on Tuesday.
Two mixed-use commercial buildings were destroyed by the fire but no homes were “substantially damaged,” the forest fire service said.
Lakewood Mayor Ray Cole said Monday that no homes in Lakwood were damaged but that the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is still staging equipment in town in case there are flare-ups. All roads in Lakewood are open.
Brick residents who were evacuated were allowed to return home starting at about 7 p.m.
The fire’s footprint was less than a quarter of a football field when first reported about 1 p.m. Sunday near Airport Road and Cedarbridge Avenue in Lakewood, officials said. It jumped across Airport Road and spread to nearby buildings before crossing the Parkway.
Several other fires were reported in New Jersey on Sunday.