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N.J. Blaze Hits 10 Homes

June 03, 2002|From Associated Press

BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A forest fire burned across more than 500 acres near a state park on Sunday, threatening about 100 homes and shutting down 20 miles of the Garden State Parkway.

One house was engulfed in flames and nine were damaged. State police said the parkway was closed along the east side of Double Trouble State Park, and several local roads also were shut down.

Berkeley Township Police evacuated the town's Pinewald section, sending residents to a school building. By early evening, fire officials said the main threat was that the flames were burning toward nearby Beachwood.

"We were working in the backyard and we saw all this smoke out there," said Geri Morris, wife of Beachwood Mayor Harold Morris. "My niece called from the back of Beachwood and said, 'Everything's turning black.'"

Firefighters' efforts were hindered by 30 mph wind gusts and drought conditions. They initially tried to contain the flames but had to fall back, said Horace Somes, division fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

"May was an average rainfall month, but on top of that we had 12 months of dryness," he said. "We have a fire on our hands we can't fight with normal attack."

About 60 state firefighters and 100 volunteers battled the blaze, using at least three helicopters.

The fire was in central New Jersey near the coast about 50 miles northeast of Atlantic City. The parkway in the area is usually packed on summer weekends.

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