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Homeowners Praise Firefighters For Battling Back Massive Lakewood Brush Fire: 'Can't Thank Them Enough'

BRICK TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - Firefighters are still on the scene at the Lakewood fire that singed 167 acres.

As CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reports, the fire is now at least 75% contained. Thankfully, winds that fanned the flames have significantly settled since their peak Sunday.

Homeowners Murdock spoke with Monday said still have homes to come home to, thanks to the relentless efforts of firefighters.

Flames soared into the sky, smoke getting thicker by the moment on a Sunday afternoon unlike any other for the Rankin Family. A brushfire started in Lakewood and hopped the Garden State Parkway, heading toward their Brick Township neighborhood.

"You couldn't see 5 feet in front of you, the house was just engulfed with smoke," sibling Kendall and Dylan Rankin told Murdock.

They evacuated, but their father stayed behind to help firefighters gain access to the backyard.

"I had a nervous breakdown. I just kept thinking my dad was here by himself," one said.

Their dad is OK.

"My lungs are still burning. You couldn't see five feet," he told Murdock.

Their home is unscathed, but their neighbor's shed now a skeleton.

"The wind just coming like a freight train," said Brick Township resident Chuck Moroney.

He didn't know what to expect upon returning home..

"I came out here this morning, and wow," he said.

There was charred earth and trees as far as the eye could see from his back yard. Hotspots still smoldered nearby. He lost his wheelbarrow to the heat, but not an ember touched his home.

"Firemen did a great job, can't thank them enough," he said.

"And we're at the time of year when fires are prevalent, because [of] all debris left over from last season," said Dr. Dave Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers. "We haven't had measurable rain in New Jersey since the first of March."

No matter the snow melt, the earth can dry out quickly this time of year. Couple that with low humidity and high winds cranking above 50 mph and it's a recipe for catastrophe - one that was averted thanks to a monumental effort by firefighters.

"We basically began to ramp up preparedness," said said Division Fire Warden Shawn Judy.

Judy says contract aircraft were ready to roll, patrols at lookouts stepped up.

"Luck can't substitute for good things that happen when we prepare," said State Fire Warden Greg McLaughlin.

In total, 167 acres burned. Firefighters are still patrolling the perimeter to knock down hot spots.

Sadly, one firefighter was critically injured Sunday.

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