By CHRIS NEWMARKER
Associated Press Writer
Firefighters in New Jersey kept an anxious eye on the weather Wednesday as they battled a massive wildfire that had consumed about 20 square miles of brush after a military jet dropped a flair on a bombing range.
With the dry conditions, strong wind gusts quickly fanned the blaze through the Warren Grove Gunnery Range about 25 miles north of Atlantic City.
No deaths or injuries had been attributed to the fire, but it forced the evacuation of about 2,500 homes along the border between Ocean and Burlington counties. Lt. Col. James Garcia, a spokesman for the New Jersey Air National Guard, said the fire was believed to have been started Tuesday afternoon with a flare dropped from an F-16 fighter jet.
The fire also damaged six mobile homes in Pinewood Estates, Forest Fire Service spokesman Willie Cirone said.
Firefighters created fire breaks along the Garden State Parkway to try to contain the blaze, he said. Showers and thunderstorms were forecast for Wednesday, but so were 20 mph winds.
The blaze joined several other major fires burning in the United States on Wednesday.
Along the Florida-Georgia state line, firefighters were making progress against a blaze that had charred 390 square miles across the two states and forced hundreds of people to evacuate homes. "We do believe we have the resources in place to control the fire," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jim Caldwell said Tuesday.
In northern Minnesota, residents chased from their homes by a forest fire on the Gunflint Trail were told they would be allowed to return for brief visits starting Thursday. The fire has burned 117 square miles of Minnesota and Canada, and many cabins and smaller structures have been destroyed. But two days of wet, cool weather have helped firefighters get the blaze 50 percent contained on the U.S. side.
"I'm dreading to see the black," said Lorraine Carpenter, whose garage was lost but home on Sea Gull Lake survived when the fire burned through the surrounding forest. "That is not going to be pretty."
The people evacuated in southern New Jersey included residents of several retirement communities, patients from a nursing home and students from an outdoor survival school. Nearly 700 people were in shelters Wednesday morning, said Drew Lieb of the New Jersey State Police.
"I just grabbed my money, my credit cards and any important papers," said Gerry Ulias, 64, a resident of the Ocean Breeze development in Stafford Township. He also grabbed his cat, Tiki, and then got out, he told the Asbury Park Press.
Others, like Linda Westover, a longtime Stafford Township resident, were confident firefighters would contain the blaze.
"They know what they're doing," she said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Verrinder in Trenton contributed to this report.