LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Swirling winds and dry conditions caused a large brush fire in Lakewood, New Jersey to spread to roughly 170 acres and damage at least two businesses Sunday, according to state officials.
Authorities also said a New Jersey Forest Fire Service firefighter is in critical condition at a hospital.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service responded to reports of an "active wildfire" on Airport Road and Cedar Bridge Avenue Sunday, around 3:30 p.m. The agency advised motorists to avoid the area as workers assessed the situation.
The origin has been identified and the cause is under investigation, the state forest fire service said, but officials did not elaborate. The agency said a prescribed burn was not responsible.
Firefighters from neighboring communities were called to the scene and a helicopter was seen dumping water on the burning brush, which was fueled by strong wind gusts.
The Lakewood Scoop tweeted a video that showed heavy smoke and reported that the fire had "spread over major roadways in Lakewood." The outlet also tweeted video of aircrafts being used to douse the uncontrolled flames.
Homes and several stores in nearby Brick were evacuated, Police Sgt. Jim Kelly told news outlets. He added that some roadways near the blaze area were also backed up. Evacuees were permitted to return home Monday morning.
The Forest Fire Service on Sunday night said crews were conducting suppression and backfiring operations to contain the inferno. Residents in Lakewood and Brick Townships were asked to avoid impacted areas.
Winds gusted upwards of 40 MPH on Sunday in Ocean County, according to FOX 29 meteorologist Scott Williams. The strong winds prompted a Red Flag Alert which warned that gusts could help spread fires created by dry brush.
The Garden State Parkway reopened just after 9 p.m. after it was closed Sunday afternoon when thick smoke plumes limited visibility. Route 70, which was also consumed by heavy smoke, reopened most lanes on Sunday night.
By Monday morning, it was reported cold temperatures Sunday night helped keep the blaze in check and the fire would continue to smolder in the area east of the Garden State Parkway, south of Cedar Bridge Avenue and north of Route 70. Firefighters continued to monitor the fire.
Officials said two mixed-use commercial structures and eight outbuildings were destroyed in the fire. Other property was said to have been damaged, but no details were released on the specific type of property, or the extent of the damage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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