A part-time firefighter with the New Jersey Firefighter Service is fighting for his life after suffering a medical emergency while responding to a massive brush fire that ripped through buildings, forced a hotel evacuation and shut down a portion of the Garden State Parkway in Lakewood, New Jersey.
The three-alarm fire started near the Lakewood Airport in the area of Airport Road and Cedarbridge Avenue around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Fueled by wind gusts of up to 40 mph, the fire ripped through two nearby office buildings before firefighters arrived.
The fire came close to a nearby Costco and Raymour & Flanigan store but firefighters were able to bring the flames under control before it reached the businesses.
Nearby homes also suffered damage though nothing catastrophic. As of 6:30 p.m., the fire reached approximately 162 acres in size.
A part-time firefighter with the New Jersey Firefighter Service suffered a “cardiac incident” while responding to the fire, according to Brian Thompson of NBC4 New York. That firefighter was taken to the hospital and is currently in critical condition.
The fire shut down the Garden State Parkway near milepost 89 in both directions. Motorists should avoid the area if possible. A nearby Hilton hotel on Rt. 70 was also evacuated.
“This environment where you have wind-driven fire through heavy fuels, where fire hasn’t been here in approximately 40 years and you have limited access to get in,” Gregory McLaughlin, Assistant State Firewarden, said. “Our trucks are built especially to go off road, push trees over. They just couldn’t get in.”
Another brush fire broke out in Carneys Point Township, New Jersey, on Sunday. There were no reports of any injuries.
The fires were fueled by powerful wind gusts and low humidity which combined to make for potentially dangerous fire conditions Sunday into Monday throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning from 8 a.m. Sunday to 5 p.m. Monday for Southeastern Pennsylvania – including Philadelphia, Berks County and the Lehigh Valley – as well as most of New Jersey and all of Delaware.
The warning means there is a high danger of wind-fanned wildfires that can rapidly spread out of control.
Winds reached 35-40 mph Sunday afternoon and evening, with relative humidity dropping to around 20% and rising only to about 35-40% by nightfall. Humidity will drop once again – between 15% and 20% – on Monday, and gusts that day are expected to reach around 20 mph.
People should be careful with any outdoor burning and avoid throwing cigarette butts out of car windows, since even a small ember blown onto dry brush can spark a fire.