Written By Patricia Miller, Karen Wall, Colleen Platt and Tom Davis
A massive brush fire is burning acres of land between Grand Central and Northern Boulevards in Berkeley, evacuating homes and sending families to shelter.
Homes and other buildings from Northern to Maryland streets have been evacuated. Officers are in place to advise and assist fire-weary residents who can't get back to their homes.
Toms River Intermediate South dismissed its students early, and the children have been sent to the Pine Belt Arena. Berkeley schools announced that they will not be busing children home immediately because of the fire.
State Police are forbidding people from getting anywhere near the fire, telling people: "The wind can switch at any minute."
"Public safety is our first priority," a state trooper told a reporter.
Massive plumes of smoke filled the air Thursday afternoon while sirens blared. An unidentified woman running down Northern Boulevard, with a cell phone in her ear, yelled at a crowd: "Who's house is on fire?"Central Regional is holding students who live on Grand Central, Western and Northern boulevards at the high school and middle school while the massive brush rages, according to a robocall from the school district.
The fire is in the Pinewald section of Berkeley Township, an area heavily forested with scrub pines and oaks and prone to fires.
Northern Boulevard residents Robert and Joan Martinez stood in the street outside their home and listened to helicopters thundering overhead, making sweeps over the smoke.
The couple said despite the order to evacuate, they are staying put. They went through this before in 2002. Robert has five hoses and spigots which he said he can use.
"I've got my hoses," he said. "I'll put them on my roof. We are not leaving this house. They just told me I have to evacuate. I told them we cannot evacuate."