LAKEWOOD – The forest fire that destroyed 167 acres, evacuated residents, and hospitalized a firefighter was intentionally set, investigators said.
Early in the investigation, fire personnel had determined where the fire started but did not say how it was started. Now, the investigation has determined the worst case scenario.
“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set,” Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer said.
The blaze started out as a brush fire at 5 Airport Road in Lakewood on the afternoon of March 14. It was first spotted by a New Jersey Forest Fire Service Observation Tower in Lakewood. It quickly spread to buildings and multiple units responded.
Ultimately, two commercial buildings were destroyed. There were 29 homes with damage to siding, sheds, and other such accessory structures. It leaped across the Garden State Parkway, closing that road and several others. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service reported that it claimed 167 acres.
Firefighters battled it overnight. The fire spread through dry conditions and high winds.
A firefighter from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service suffered cardiac arrest during these efforts. He was transported to Hackensack Meridian Ocean Medical Center in Brick Township where he is reported to be in stable condition.
“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated. 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. 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,” Prosecutor Billhimer said.
Anyone with information concerning this fire is urged to contact Sgt. Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-929-2027, ext. 3953.”
The fire was investigated by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Squad-Arson Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crime Unit, Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office, Lakewood Township Police Department Detective Bureau, and Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit.
Multiple units responded to the event, including: Ocean County Sheriff’s Office; New Jersey Forest Fire Service; New Jersey State Police; New Jersey State Police Traffic Incident Management Team; Ocean County Fire Coordinators; Ocean County EMS Coordinators; Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office; Lakewood Township Police Department; Brick Township Police Department; Toms River Township Police Department; Jackson Township Police Department; Howell Township Police Department; Chaverim of Lakewood; Hatzolah; Brick Township Bureau of Fire Safety; Brick Township EMS; Lakewood Township Fire Department; Lakewood Township EMS; Barnegat Township Fire Department; Beachwood Fire Department; Bayville Fire Department (Berkeley); Manitou Park Fire Department (Berkeley); Pinewald Pioneer Fire Department (Berkeley); Laurelton Fire Department (Brick); Breton Woods Fire Department (Brick); Pioneer Hose Fire Department (Brick); Herbertsville Fire Department (Brick); Toms River Fire Department Company No.1; Toms River Fire Department Company No. 2; Ocean Beach Fire Department (Toms River); East Dover Fire Department (Toms River); Silverton Fire Department (Toms River); Pleasant Plains Fire Department (Toms River); Manchester Township Fire Department; Whiting Fire Department (Manchester); Ridgeway Fire Department (Manchester); Mantoloking Fire Department; Waretown Fire Department; Ocean Gate Fire Department; Pine Beach Fire Department; Point Pleasant Borough Fire Department; Point Pleasant Beach Fire Department; Seaside Heights Fire Department; Seaside Park Fire Department; Island Heights Fire Department; Jackson Township Fire Department Company No.1; Jackson Mills Fire Department (Jackson); Cassville Fire Department (Jackson); Whitesville Fire Department (Jackson); Forked River Fire Department (Lacey); Lanoka Harbor Fire Department (Lacey); Lakehurst Fire Department; Joint Base McGuire-Dix Fire Department; Lavallette Fire Department; Eatontown Fire Department; Wanamassa Fire Department (Ocean – Monmouth County); Oakhurst Fire Department (Ocean – Monmouth County); West Long Branch Fire Department; Hamilton Fire Department (Neptune); Shark River Hills Fire Department (Neptune); Neptune City Fire Department; Colts Neck Fire Department; Southard Fire Department (Howell); and Goodwill Hose Fire Department (Belmar).