Firefighters are battling a fast-moving forest fire in New Jersey that has consumed at least 150 acres and has forced the evacuation of 40 homes and at least one school in Ocean County.
Officials say the fire broke out late Thursday morning in Beachwood near the Berkeley Township border and spread rapidly amid high winds.
Toms River Intermediate South, a middle school, was closed early as a precaution and students were taken to the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. The district says the students are safe and will be sent home on their normal bus routes.
Several homes in the path of the blaze have been surrounded with pyro-suppression units to protect them, according to Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. Some residents were asked to turn on their yard sprinklers as firefighters tried to douse the fire.
"There are about 40 homes nearby that are in potential danger. So they’ve been instructed to put on their sprinkler systems and just kind of keep their houses and their properties moist,” said Larry Hajna with the state's Department of Environmental Protection.
Melissa Masker described heavy smoke and giant flames that leaped above the treetops. She snapped a photo of the blaze and says that as she took it she could feel the heat of the fire.
Forecasters issued a fire weather watch through Thursday evening. They say a combination of low humidity and strong winds could spread any brush fires that develop.
One witness captured the fire before it had spread to more than 150 acres.