Authorities: Investigation Into Massive NJ Wildfire at Standstill

Firefighters on a hoseline

Avalon Zoppo

nj.com

(MCT)

The investigation into who started a massive Ocean County wildfire in March that scorched 167 acres is at a standstill due to “less than cooperative” witnesses, the prosecutor’s office said Monday.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said its investigators have tried to interview dozens of possible witnesses, but those witnesses have not been cooperative. Authorities have said the blaze, which originated in Lakewood and jumped the Garden State Parkway spreading to Brick Township, was set intentionally.

“Detectives have attempted to interview approximately 60 potential witnesses and reviewed video recordings from cameras in proximity to the fire. The vast majority of these potential witnesses have been less than cooperative with our investigation, and as such, we are currently at an impasse at this point in time,” Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said.

Officials at a New Jersey State Forest Fire Service observation tower spotted the fire around 1 p.m. on March 14 near Cedarbridge Avenue and Airport Road in Lakewood.

High winds aided in spreading the fire quickly, as dozens of fire departments from the area rushed to the scene to stamp out the inferno and heavy traffic backed up on Route 70.

The fire destroyed two mixed-use commercial buildings and caused hundreds of people to evacuate a suburban Brick neighborhood, where the flames crept into backyards and melted the siding on some homes. A homeless couple living in the woods near where the fire started narrowly escaped the blaze.

A firefighter with the state forest fire service also suffered cardiac arrest while battling the blaze. His condition was upgraded to stable after initially being hospitalized in critical condition.

The prosecutor’s office is asking any members of the public with information about the fire to please contact Sergeant Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732- 929-2027, extension 3953.

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Avalon Zoppo may be reached at azoppo2@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @AvalonZoppo.

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