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Five Killed, Many Injured in Greatest Forest Fires in the History of Two Counties

More Than 20,000 Acres Involved in Four-Day Conflagration in the Area from Chatsworth to Tuckerton and Manahawkin–2,000 Men Fought Fire / Men Were Trapped While Fighting

In one of the worst forest fires in the history of Burlington and Ocean counties, the past four days, burning over more than 20,000 acres, five men lost their lives and many others were injured. The area involved includes the section from Chatsworth to Tuckerton. There also were fires east of Brown’s Mills.

Colonel Leonidas J. Coyle, state fire warden, reported last night that the fire was under control and practically extinguished, when a change of wind turned the flames back over the area already burned over.

The dead are: Edward F. Sullivan, 19, of New Brunswick. Kingsley White, 38, of Whitesville. Stanley Carr, 23, of Farmingdale. John LaSalle, 20, of New Brunswick. State Forest Ranger Ira Morey, 35, of West Creek. Sullivan, Carr and LaSalle were members of the CCC camp at Bass River. White was a member of the Whitesville fire department. Morey, a brother of Alfred Morey, fire warden, of West Creek, died of burns in hospital. With the other four and the ten injured, he was a member of a crew being rushed to safety in a truck after more than 100 men had been trapped by their own backfires in the Stafford’s Forge section.

Drove Others to Safety

Carr was the driver of one truck carrying 50 of the men out of the woods while Everett Allen, a ranger, Bass River, drove the others to safety. It was not until nearly an hour after Allen reached West Creek with his load that it was discovered the other truck was missing. Meanwhile, Ira Morey, terribly burned, managed to get out of the woods and give first news of the tragedy. Morey was taken to Camp Dix hospital, where he died, and rescue crews were sent after the other men. Carr’s body was found in the truck. The bodies of the other three were found 200 to 300 yards from the machine, which is believed to have been wrecked when it struck a tree as Carr lost control in the dense smoke. All of the dead were so horribly burned identification was nearly impossible. They were taken to a Tuckerton morgue, where they lay for more than 12 hours. Lieut. Julius Stark, CCC officer, identified Carr by a mole on his shoulder, and LaSalle through a dental filling. White was identified by inspecting the teeth. Sullivan’s father, Amos, identified his son by a ring and locker keys. Sullivan had been a member of the CCC camp but eight days. A number of men had been reported missing from time to time Monday night. One, Dandall Leek, 24, of West Creek, has been accounted for. Leek was reported missing when his car was left all night on the highway. However, he turned up yesterday, explaining he had left his original group of volunteers and gone out with a second party. He was unharmed.

Ten Men in Hospitals

Ten men are in hospitals. In Camp Dix Hospital are Stanley T. Bieselin and Philip J. Matthews, of the New Gretna CCC camp. Bieselin is a son of Carl Bieselin, Mullica township clerk. The other eight injured were taken to the Paul Kimball Hospital, Lakewood. They are: Irving Tinkel, New Brunswick; Christopher Lipton, 528 North Delaware avenue, Atlantic City; Richard Allen, Bordentown; Lewis Hedervary, New Gretna; Melvin MacQueen, Lakewood; William Morey, West Creek; Robert Adams, of New Gretna, and Emil Wauchlin, of Tuckahoe. At the hospital it was said each of them was suffering burns and effects of smoke. Morey, another brother of the fire warden, and Hedervay are in critical condition. Scores were burned less seriously and were treated by roving doctors and ambulance crews who have been running up and down the fire lines continuously. Ambulances from Camp Dix and nearby Ocean county communities were rushed to West Creek and an emergency hospital was established by the Toms River First Aid squad.

Although several fires seemed to be burning fiercely, Division Fire Warden John A. Thornberg said that the “situation is in hand” last night. He explained that some of the fires which looked dangerous were backfires. Thornburg had 1500 volunteers under him. In addition, there were 500 CCC campers, under Capt. Rowe A. Nelson, fighting the flames, and 200 regular army men of the Eighteenth Infantry, Camp Dix. The latter were the men of Companies D, H and M, under Captains Wilson and W.D. Long. Peter Crozier, division fire warden, who was replaced by Thornberg after collapsing Monday at Stafford’s Forge, suffered another relapse yesterday at his home in Mount Holly. He was removed to Burlington county Hospital, where his condition was described as “good.”

Three men listed as missing early yesterday, were found later in other sections of the burning area. They are Benjamin Broome, fire warden; Henry Updyke, a volunteer, of New Gretna, and William P. Marter, a volunteer, of Tuckerton. Col. Leonidas J. Coyle, state fire warden, returned to Trenton last night, after a plane trip over Burlington and Ocean counties. He announced all of the fires were “officially out.” Coyle said several hundred men had been posted for all-night duty, but he believed all danger has passed. He described the blaze as “the worst fire in our experience.”

Recapitulation of the four-day damage revealed: The fires burned over more than 20,000 acres of forests and bog lands in Ocean and Burlington counties. At least nine towns were saved from destruction by the combined forces of more than 2,000 CCC workers, volunteers and soldiers. Twenty-three fire departments aided fire wardens and others in drenching homes and preventing the fires from entering towns. More than a score of homes, camps, gunning clubs and a sawmill were destroyed. Forest rangers were able to count 15 fires – four main ones and 11 smaller ones – at noon yesterday.

The most destructive forest fires in several years have been raging in parts of the pines districts of Burlington, Ocean and Atlantic counties during the past few days. Several times the firefighters succeeded in extinguishing the flames, in one section only to have them break out in another. The most menacing fire swept over thousands of acres in the neighborhood of Chatsworth on Saturday and Sunday. It had burned over an area of twelve square miles on Saturday before it was brought under control near Todd’s cranberry bog. In its course the fire swept across the Chatsworth cemetery. Had it not been for a sudden veering of the brisk wind it was probable that the town of Chatsworth would have been at least partially destroyed.

On Sunday the flames broke out again in that section and once more bore down on Chatsworth. A force of 400 CCC workers was hurried to the scene from the Lebanon forest, Pack and Bass River camps, while fire companies from Barnegat, Tuckerton and Manahawkin were hurriedly summoned. The firemen from the bay-shore towns were stationed at Chatsworth, Warren’s Grove and Clayton’s Grove. Orders were given by means of radio cars, while district fire warden Peter Crozier and J. Paul Allen directed the efforts of the small army of fire fighters. Besides the CCC workers, the Penn State Forest camp and buildings would doubtless have been destroyed. Additional forces came to their rescue from the Atlantic county mosquito camp.

A new fire got under way south of the railroad tracks at New Lisbon on Sunday and burned over a square mile before a force under the direction of sectional fire warden Abraham Brown and Allen Brown, brought it under control. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, State Fire Warden Leonidas Coyle flew over the burning area in his plane, sending messages by radio to his forces on the ground beneath him, equipped with receiving sets.

Some livestock, mostly pigs, perished in the furious flames which swept over the terrain with incredible swiftness at times. The fine hunters’ cabin, owned by Blackwood Gun Club at Leaktown, was destroyed entailing a loss of $2,500. The home of Frank Anderson, at Jones’s Mill, was damaged but not burned down. Several other buildings were in the path of the forest fire and destroyed. A number of cranberry bogs were burned over, entailing a heavy loss to the owners. On Sunday afternoon hundreds of cars, returning from the shore to inland points, were turned back when they attempted to drive through the threatened area on Route 40. From these cars the lurid glare of the fire was visible, and the ominous roar and crackling could be heard. For many it was a novel and somewhat alarming spectacle, and most of the drivers needed no second word of caution to persuade them to turn back and go home by way of Barnegat, Forked River and Whitings. A number of these cars were from Mount Holly and other Burlington inland towns. With the underbrush and dead leaves as dry as tinder and leaping into instant flames when touched by sparks, the woods fires which had been raging for days in the lower end of this county and the adjoining pine woods in Ocean and Atlantic, became even more serious on Monday.

Six Towns Threatened

The fire in which the men were caught was one of three forest fires that swept across the southern part of Ocean county on Monday and threatened a half-dozen towns on the western Bay Coast Monday night. The main fire, an extension of the conflagration that burned all day on Sunday in western Burlington county, on Monday afternoon cut a four-mile swath eastward across Ocean county, destroying three buildings and a sawmill at Warren Grove. By night it had traveled 16 miles and was attacking Mayetta, on the New York-Atlantic City highway south of Manahawkin. At Mayetta it destroyed one home and set scores of residents to preparations for evacuation.

Firemen Called

Fire companies from a dozen nearby towns managed to prevent a serious conflagration. A third fire starting to the south of the main body cut a wide track toward Tuckerton, but was brought under control Monday night. Automobiles going south were turned off along a western detour at Manahawkin, while from the south, traffic was diverted along the White Horse pike. Thousands of men labored with spades and with chemicals to stay the onward march of the fire filled areas. In the woods about Warren’s Grove, hunting centre, a saw mill owned by George Cranmer and three deer club lodges were destroyed by the flames. In the village itself two fire companies from Barnegat and Manahawkin stood ready to defend the houses and the residents, their belongings packed in automobiles, awaited word to vacate if it became necessary. Backfires about the outskirts of the town, however, had done their duty, and the fire passed by, burning only one house on the edge, a summer bungalow owned by Charles Holloway. Holloway’s permanent home, across the road, was untouched.

The area about Warren’s Grove was burned out and late Monday afternoon the western end of the conflagration was a few miles east of it. Dense black smoke covered the fire area like a pall, extending high into the air so that it was visible for miles around. Hundreds of game animals and birds emerged, frightened, from the suffocating woods, while thousands more were estimated to have perished from heat, flames, and smoke. Deer, rabbits, pheasants, grouse, and quail were seen dashing out. The advance of the fire was believed to have been stopped early on Monday just west of a road bisecting the Tuckerton-Philadelphia and Manahawkin-Philadelphia roads, near Warren’s Grove. Before noon, however, the advancing flames, born by the stiff breezes, managed to jump the back-fired area near the road, and then began their rapid eastward advance. Inhabitants of Manahawkin, which is a trading centre for the Barnegat Bay towns, thronged the streets all afternoon, anxiously watching the advance of the fire, audibly wondering whether they would have to flee their homes. Fire apparatus at Atlantic City stood by ready to come to the assistance of Tuckerton should the blaze resume its aggressiveness and renew the advance on the town of 500 buildings. Special measures were taken to protect the Tuckerton wireless station.

Originally published by the New Jersey Mirror, May 27, 1936.