A year after the fire consumed 167 acres near the brick, an arson case is opened

BRICK, NJ – On a clear, sunny Sunday a year ago, smoke billowing from a fire in Lakewood caught the attention of an observer at the nearby New Jersey Forest Fire Service observation tower .

Seemingly within minutes, the wind turned the blaze into a wildfire, blowing embers down the Garden State Parkway and Route 70, sparking spot fires as hundreds of firefighters battled to contain the looming flames the houses of Brick Lake Park.

Authorities halted traffic on the parkway for several hours, then closed parts of several nearby roads, including Cedar Bridge Avenue and Route 70 as the flames spread.

The fire ended up consuming 167 acres of trees and destroying two commercial buildings. It damaged 29 houses in Brick and destroyed sheds and vehicles.

There was also a human toll. A firefighter suffered a heart attack while battling the blaze. He was hospitalized for six weeks before he was finally able to return home. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate as the flames progressed towards Brick Lake Park.

And three homeless people who were camping in the wooded area not far from Brick Lake Park, behind Lowes, lost their belongings when their campsites were destroyed. Two were a married couple who had fallen on hard times. Those times became even more difficult when the wife, Kathleen Winits, was hit by a car while crossing Route 70 and died, three weeks after the fire.

“We have located the origin of the fire and have concluded that the fire was started intentionally,” prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer said on March 19, five days after the fire. “The magnitude of this forest fire cannot be overstated. It is only by the grace of God that no one was killed.”

“This is still an active investigation,” the prosecutor’s office said Monday.

A firefighter suffered a heart attack while battling the blaze, authorities said. Six weeks later, he was finally able to return home. Read more: 6 weeks after wildfire, Toms River firefighter returns home

In June last year, Billhimer said detectives attempted to interview nearly 60 people and reviewed video from cameras near the fire.

“The vast majority of these potential witnesses have been less than cooperative with our investigation, and as such we are currently at an impasse at this point,” Billhimer said at the time. Read more: ‘Uncooperative’ witnesses hamper brick fire investigation: prosecutor

They are still hoping that someone who witnessed the fire will speak up.

The Ocean County District Attorney’s Office Major Crimes Unit Arson Squad continues to work on the investigation with other law enforcement agencies. Anyone with information about the fire or responsible for it is asked to contact Sgt. Thomas Haskell of the Ocean County District Attorney’s Office at 732-929-2027, ext. 3953.

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