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Firefighters Continue To Put Out Hot Spots Following New Jersey Wildfires

BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, N.J.(CBSNewYork/AP) — Promising news in New Jersey where firefighters battling several wildfires in Ocean County said they are getting the upper hand.

No injuries and only minor property damage had been reported from a quartet of fires that broke out on Thursday, fanned by strong gusty winds.

But by Friday morning, those winds had died down considerably, and a steady rain forecast for late Friday into Saturday was expected to drastically shrink the fires if not extinguish them completely.

“That’s what we’re waiting for,” said Russ Fenton, acting assistant division warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

PHOTOS: Ocean County Forest Fire

A blaze in Berkeley Township that burned more than 300 acres and forced hundreds of evacuations was fully contained Friday morning, said Greg McLaughlin, the fire service’s division warden. Residents were allowed to return to their homes late Thursday.

“We had some good, successful containment operations overnight, with lower temperatures, and we’re feeling pretty good about all these fires,” he said.

Crews flew over the main Berkeley fire Friday morning to look for hot spots and areas of unburned fuel that needed to be addressed. A smaller fire in a different part of Berkeley had burned at least 220 acres and was 80 percent contained as of Friday evening, CBS 2’s Vanessa Murdock reported.

A fire that burned more than 1,500 acres in Downe Township in Cumberland County, at the far southern end of the state, was declared under control Friday morning. That fire, in the Bevans Wildlife Management Area, was far from homes or other buildings.

And a blaze that burned 569 acres in Franklin Township in Gloucester County was at least 50 percent contained Friday afternoon.

In Bayville Thursday night, an orange fireball filled the sky just feet away from a row of homes. It was part of a controlled burn in an effort to try to stop the raging fire.

“We’re burning it out,” Steve Holmes of the state Forest Fire Service said. “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.”

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service said the Bayville fire was 100 percent contained Friday evening, Murdock reported.

Winds in the area were sustained at 20 to 25 mph, with gusts of 35 to 40 mph on Thursday. Combined with dry conditions in much of the state, the winds led state officials to ban outdoor fires Thursday.

“April is fire month in New Jersey and the conditions today were appropriate for a fast spreading wildfire,” McLaughlin said.

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.

“Intense, we could feel the heat,” Toms River resident Dennis Larson said. “My neighbor and I sat there and said, ‘Do you feel that? Yes, I feel that’ and get ready to do what we have to do if we have to.”

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.

Shortly after firefighting crews gained control over four blazes burning in central and southern New Jersey, a new fire broke out Friday.

A forest fire was reported around 11 a.m. in Wharton State Forest in Shamong Township, Burlington County.

It burned 50 acres within a half hour and was expected to char at least 200 acres before being contained, said Russ Fenton, acting assistant division warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. No buildings are nearby, Fenton said.

Shortly after firefighting crews gained control over the four blazes burning in central and southern New Jersey, a new fire broke out Friday.

A forest fire was reported around 11 a.m. in Wharton State Forest in Shamong Township, Burlington County.

It burned 50 acres within a half hour and was expected to char at least 200 acres before being contained, said Russ Fenton, acting assistant division warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. No buildings are nearby, Fenton said.

There was no initial indication of what touched off any of the fires.

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