BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, N.J.(CBSNewYork/AP) — Several forest fires in Ocean County scorched more than 300 acres Thursday, threatened homes and businesses and forced a school to close early.
Fire crews from dozens of companies spent the day and night battling as many as five wildfires, CBS 2 reported.
The biggest blaze, which started just before noon in Beachwood and Berkeley Township, was completely contained by 10:30 p.m., WCBS 880 reported. Another fire, at Dover and Pinewald-Keswick roads was 50 percent contained, according to WCBS 880.
The fires were expected to burn into the morning.
“It’s going to be a nervous night,” said resident Patrick Mazarro. “There’s definitely not going to be anything confident about this.”
No injuries have been reported.
More than 600 homes along Northern Boulevard in Berkeley Township were evacuated, but officials were letting residents return Thursday night, WCBS 880 reported.
In Bayville on Thursday night, an orange fireball filled the sky just feet away from a row of homes. It was part of a controlled burn effort to try to stop the raging fire, CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported.
PHOTOS: Ocean County Forest Fire
“We’re burning it out,” Steve Holmes of the state Forest Fire Service told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten. “Basically build a box around the fire, and we’ll have to burn it out, so everything gets black, so the fire won’t spread any longer,”
Earlier in Toms River, there was a whipping fire in a marshy area along Fisher Boulevard that burned several boats and sheds, said witness Andy Collins, a truck driver who had just delivered some boats.
“It was coming down the guard rail,” he said. “Trees caught on fire. The blaze jumped, and it burnt several boats and sheds. And I think it burned a garage or something back on this other side — the police won’t let you back in there.”
“It was quite a horrific scene there for a while. There was a lot of smoke.”
Firefighters were battling the blazes on the ground, supplemented by bulldozers building walls to stop the spread of flames and several helicopters and firefighting planes dropping water on the fire. The causes of the blazes was not known as of Thursday night. Officials said each would be investigated.
Winds in the area were sustained at 20 to 25 mph, with gusts of 35 to 40 mph. Combined with dry conditions in much of the state, the winds led state officials to ban outdoor fires Thursday.
The strong winds have made fighting the fire difficult, Carrasco reported.
Greg McLaughlin of the Forest Fire Service said once a fire gets into the trees, that’s when the real trouble begins.
“That fire moves very fast, very erratic, based on wind-driven circumstances,” he told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
Worried homeowners spent the day and night watching and waiting. Flames approached backyards, where firefighters worked to stave them off, and homes were being watered down to prevent them from catching fire, CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport reported.
Many residents were ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“We would have been gone,” Dennis Larson, of Toms River, told Carrasco. “We would have packed up. My daughter had everything ready to go. We would have put everything in our vehicles, and we would have went to Grandma’s house far away.”
Toms River Intermediate South school closed early as a precaution. The district said all students were safe and were sent home on their normal bus routes.
“We got evacuated to the high school, and everybody’s great,” Diane Scelczo, who works at the school, told Rapoport.
Meanwhile, 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.
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