Firefighters are battling a fire in the rear of the Buhler car dealership that was first reported by Hazlet Police at 5:15 a.m. Saturday morning.
Tall flames could be seen in the rear of the building around 5:30 a.m. Huge clouds of black smoke drifted over the highway towards Keyport.
The fire is believed to have started in the service garage, an area separated by a thick brick wal, behind the new car showroom, said Hazlet First Assistant Township Deputy Chief Andrew Christ. The roof of the rear section of the building has collapsed.
One firefighter was taken to Bayshore Community Hospital for a condition related to smoke inhalation, said Christ.
"This is an all-hands type fire situation," said Christ from a command area on Maple Drive. Responding companies attacked the fire from the exterior, he said. Firefighters continued to douse the structure more than four hours later.
Darren Buhler, who runs the dealership with brother-in-law Garry Foltz, gave firefighters information they needed about the inside structure of the building, which dates back to 1968.
Buhler, 46, represents the fourth generation in the family business.
"What you are looking at is nothing but a brick shell and charred cars inside," Buhler said, at 9 a.m. "Anything in the service area is gone and charred. A few pockets are still burning," he said.
Buhler said the dealership was fully insured and that the family, which started its business in Keyport, would rebuild.
His word for the firefighters on the scene was "awesome."
"Its a holiday weekend and everyone is here," he said.
Phil Jacobs of Hazlet came with his young son as soon as he heard the news. "My wife's Town and Country minivan is in there," he said, incredulous. "We just brought it in yesterday for normal service."
The fire and heat was so intense that at least one homeowner on Roosevelt, a residential street behind the dealership, said he has some fire damage on his roof. Tiny particles of white soot floated in the air and sprinkled down on the cars in the service lot.
Present at the scene were Hazlet Fire Co. #1, North Centerville, W. Keansburg, Keansburg, Middletown, Matawan Boro, Aberdeen and Atlantic Highlands, Midway, Union Beach, Keyport, Belford, Navesink, Port Monmouth, Leonardo, Earle NWS, as well as the towns' first aid squads and the Monmouth County EMS.
Rapid Intervention Teams from Union Beach, Matawan, Keyport and Earle were present to protect the safety of the firefighters.
Groups such as the Ladies Auxiliary of North Centerville Fire Co, offered cold water.