New Jersey forest fires mostly contained; threat looms

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image "><span></span></div><span class="caption-text">Viewer photo from  a massive brush fire in Beachwood, New Jersey on April 24, 2014</span></div>
High winds and dry conditions on Thursday provided fuel for several New Jersey forest fires, including one that forced the evacuation of more than 600 homes and the early closing of a school.

Officials with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said early Friday that just one fire was still burning out of control, which was about 80 percent contained and expected to be 100 percent contained by midday.

CLICK HERE to see pictures from the fires.

Drivers and area residents are being warned that smoke conditions could be intense and that extra precautions should be taken.

"The smoke condition out there is going to be very, very strong along the roads," the forest fire service's Brian Corvinus said. "That's why we're asking to keep the roads shut down and closed...for safety reasons and for the firefighters that are working out there in the dark. Visibility is limited."

At one point, firefighters in Ocean County were dealing with five separate fires, which were categorized as erratic and aggressive. They were able to get a handle on the blazes by attacking them from both the ground and the air.

The largest of the fires was dubbed the Continental Fire, which broke out just before noon in the area of Berkeley Avenue and Grand Central Parkway. This was the fire that came dangerously close to neighborhoods and forced those hundreds of home evacuations, as well as at a nearby school that closed early and ushered students to a safer location.

Residents were allowed to return late Thursday, and no injuries have been reported. Still, more than 300 acres were scorched by the flames.

Some structures suffered minor damage, but firefighters were able to prevent the fires from engulfing any homes or businesses.

Toms River Intermediate South school closed early as a precaution, and students were taken to Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. The district said they were sent home on their normal bus routes. The school was later used as a command post for officials coordinating firefighting efforts.

Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze on the ground, supplemented by three bulldozers building walls to stop the spread of flames and several helicopters and firefighting planes dropped water on the fire.

At the same time, firefighters battled the second day of a forest fire in Downe Township in Cumberland County, at the far southern end of the state.

That fire, in the Bevans Wildlife Management Area, was 50 percent contained by late in the day, and firefighters were hopeful it wouldn't spread any further. No homes or other buildings were in the immediate area of the fire, which had burned nearly 2 1/2 square miles.

There also were small fires in the New Jersey communities of Whiting and Jackson.

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