Massive brush fire that scorched Ocean County was intentionally set, authorities say

LAKEWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- A massive brush fire that engulfed a large area of New Jersey's Ocean County and spread from Lakewood into Bric Townships was intentionally set, authorities announced Friday.

The fire broke out early Sunday afternoon, damaging dozens of homes and forcing evacuations. A firefighter who suffered a heart attack battling the blaze remains hospitalized.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer announced the results of the investigation, which was conducted 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.

"We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set," he said.

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service Observation Tower in Lakewood reported the wildfire in the area of Cedarbridge Avenue and Airport Road in Lakewood.

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As the fire quickly spread, firefighters battled through the night in the face of 20 mile-per-hour winds in an effort to contain the blaze.

During the course of the fire, a firefighter from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service suffered cardiac arrest.

He was transported to Hackensack Meridian Ocean Medical Center in Brick Township, where he is reported to be in stable condition.

Approximately 167 acres of land were destroyed by the fire, and it was finally deemed under control on Monday, March 15, 2021, by approximately 1 p.m.

"The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated," Billhimer said. "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."

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Toni Yates reports from the scene of the attack in Carteret.

The investigation remains active and ongoing, and anyone with information is urged to contact Sergeant Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office at 732-929-2027, extension 3953.

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