'Rare' New Jersey Wildfire Damages Dozens of Homes, Leaves Firefighter Critically Injured

A firefighter was critically injured and more than two dozen homes were damaged after a rare wildfire broke out in southern New Jersey on Sunday night.

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service (FFS) began encouraging residents to avoid the area of Lakewood around 3:30 p.m. as it responded to an active and growing wildfire.

By 10:30 p.m., the blaze had burned more than 170 acres, and destroyed two mixed-use professional/commercial structures, the FFS said in a statement.

"The origin has been identified and the cause is under investigation, though we can state it was not from a prescribed burn as reported inaccurately online," the statement said.

The FFS said it would continue suppression, patrol and mop-up efforts throughout the night, but that evacuated residents were able to return to their homes.

The statement also confirmed that a FFS firefighter was taken to a local hospital in critical condition.

Matthew Parker, who lives near Lakewood, told NJ.com that he was napping on Sunday when he awoke to the smell of smoke.

He and his girlfriend Amie Berta evacuated and returned on Monday to find that the fire had destroyed two sheds and their chicken coop, killing all but two chickens.

"This is not what I expected to find when I left yesterday. Not in a million years," Berta told the outlet. "Thank goodness for the fire department. They did an amazing job. You can see how close it got to the house… and there's no smoke damage, there's nothing."

Meanwhile, in Brick, John Stoneham said the scene was shocking.

"You always see stuff like this on TV, but it's always California or somewhere else," he told NJ.com. "We got 20 percent luck, 80 percent the firefighters saved our houses."

The blaze was 50 percent continued by Monday morning, according to ABC affiliate WTEN, though all but one of New Jersey's 21 counties will reportedly remain under a red flag warning until 5 p.m.

CNN Meteorologist Michael Guy said that large wildfires are "uncommon or rare" for the state, and that the fire was likely helped along by high winds and low humidity.

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