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Wildfire closes New Jersey highway

Smoke from a wildfire blankets the Garden State Parkway.
Smoke from a wildfire blankets the Garden State Parkway.  

PINEWALD, New Jersey (CNN) -- Firefighters were close to containing a forest fire late Sunday responsible for closing a 24-mile section of New Jersey Garden State Parkway, a state fire official said Sunday.

"We're close to containment," said Chris Irick, assistant division fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. A few hours earlier Irick said the forward part of the fire had been contained and that firefighters were working on the blaze's outer edges.

Irick said it was possible that the parkway would be open "in the wee hours" of Monday, when smoke clears from the 1,500-acre blaze.

"We have one confirmed house destroyed, one with major damage, one car burned and several outbuildings," Irick said.

The fire also damaged the exterior of 10 homes in Ocean County, New Jersey, according to Irick. Two other homes were 50 percent destroyed, a pair of vehicles was destroyed and 15 outbuildings were also destroyed by the fire. Eight outbuildings were partially damaged. A boat was found burned and "a lot of power lines and phone lines are down," Irick said.

The fire was primarily burning in Ocean County's township of Berkeley. But Irick said flames had "burned a little" of nearby Double Trouble State Park. Township officials said about 500 evacuees were taken to Central Regional High School in Bayville, on the Forest Hills Parkway.

"We've got 60 state firefighters, about 100 volunteer firefighters, 17 special off-road wildland engines, three helicopters and four [bull] dozers" working the fire, Irick said.

He said the fire is particularly difficult to extinguish. "It's one of the more difficult ones to put out because of the urban interface," Irick said. "The fire is among houses combined with woodland areas, so we can't use standard methods to fight the fire by burning it out."

The parkway is a major route between New York and gambling mecca Atlantic City.

Opened in 1954, more than 1 million vehicles per day travel on its 173 miles, according to the parkway's Web site. One of five vehicles on the parkway is from out of state, the site said.




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