March 14 wildfire ‘was intentionally set,’ prosecutor says

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Firefighters from multiple departments battled the March 14 wildfire that spread from Lakewood into Brick Township. PHOTO BY MARK R. SULLIVAN

TOMS RIVER — A multi-agency investigation has determined that the March 14 wildfire that spread through parts of Lakewood and Brick Township “was intentionally set,” Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced Friday.

“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was intentionally set,” Mr. Billhimer said in a statement issued by his office.

According to the statement, the investigation involved the 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.

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The statement noted that approximately 167 acres of woodland were destroyed by the fire before it was brought under control on by about 1 p.m. Monday, March 15, 2021.

“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated,” Mr. 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.”

The blaze was first reported some 24 hours earlier on Sunday, March 14, by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service Observation Tower in Lakewood. Firefighters from multiple fire companies throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties battled 20-mile-per hour winds to contain what authorities described as a “wildfire.”  

The stricken firefighter was a member of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and, according to the prosecutor’s statement, remained in stable condition on Friday at Hackensack Meridian Ocean Medical Center in Brick Township.  

 “This remains an active and ongoing investigation, and anyone with knowledge of information concerning this fire is urged to contact Sergeant Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-929-2027, extension 3953,” the prosecutor said.

For more on this story, read next week's edition of The Ocean Star—on newsstands Friday or online in our e-Edition.

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