Prosecutors in Ocean County on Friday said the wildfire that consumed 167 acres of land and led to a firefighter experiencing cardiac arrest last Sunday was set intentionally.
Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer acknowledged the outcome of the investigation, but in a prepared statement, did not divulge details as to how the fire intentionally started or if any suspects have been identified. The case is still being actively investigated.
“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set,” Billhimer said.
Officials also released new details on how the fire was discovered. According to the statement, at approximately 1:15 p.m. Sunday, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service Observation Tower in Lakewood reported a wildland fire in the area of Cedarbridge Avenue and Airport Road in Lakewood. As the fire quickly spread, firefighters battled through the night – in the face of 20 mile-per-hour winds that were gusting in upwards of 40 m.p.h. – 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, the statement said. 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.
Three homeless people living in the woods were rescued by first responders.
“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated,” said Billhimer. “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.”
Billhimer described the probe into the blaze as “an active and ongoing investigation.” Anyone with knowledge of information concerning the fire is being urged to contact Sgt. Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-929-2027, ext 3953.
The following agencies responded to the fire:
cean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit-Arson Squad, 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, for their thorough and collaborative efforts in connection with this investigation. Prosecutor Billhimer also commends the following agencies for their bravery and collective support in fighting and controlling this horrific fire: 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).