One home was destroyed and nine others were damaged, hundreds of residents were evacuated, and a 24-mile stretch of the Garden State Parkway was closed yesterday by a windblown forest fire that engulfed more than 1,000 acres of pinelands several miles inland from the Central New Jersey shore.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but 500 homes were threatened and hundreds of state firefighters and volunteers from 47 local fire companies retreated as walls of fast-moving orange-red flames advanced through Berkeley Township and Beachwood, near Toms River in Ocean County.
Under a towering blanket of smoke visible halfway across the state, flames that were whipped by 30-mph winds threatened homes in Berkeley's Pinewald section, east of Double Trouble State Park, and were moving on last night into Beachwood, a more populated community just south of Toms River.
Chief Charles Burnell, of the Bayville Fire Company in Berkeley, said there were no roads within three-quarters of a mile of the place where the fire was believed to have started. He said 500 homes in Pinewald and Beachwood were threatened and evacuated in the afternoon.
About 170 residents of the Crystal Lake Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Bayville were evacuated.
The bulk of the fire burned west of the Garden State Parkway, but embers blew across the road, and there were flames on both sides in some areas. Dense smoke covered the parkway, and police closed it from Little Egg Harbor to Toms River.
With the main artery for the Jersey Shore shut down, along with other roads in the area, thousands of beachgoers were caught in huge traffic jams late in the day on roads across much of east-central New Jersey.
The fire, whose origin was not immediately determined, was believed to have started about 1 p.m. near a cranberry bog known as McDaniel's Farm, north of Double Trouble State Park.
The fire was burning out of control in the evening, but state officials said that its progress had been stopped and that it would be contained overnight and brought under control this morning.