As the New Jersey Forest Fire Service works to contain a 600-acre wildfire in the heart of the Pinelands in Tabernacle and Woodland townships, the service along with the National Weather Service have issued warnings.
“The Forest Fire Service is increasing fire patrols and we are increasing our response capabilities as this drying trend continues,” said State Forest Fire Service Acting Chief Michael Drake in a statement today. “But we need your help to prevent fires and to alert us if you see or suspect one.’’
Four brush fires have broken out in nearby Lacey Township since Thursday. Firefighters throughout the region battled a Beach Haven blaze on Sunday that severely damaged a local restaurant and several homes.
The current fire danger is ranked at extreme, according to the state forest fire service.
The rating system defines extreme as “fires start readily from sparks or cigarette butts, spread and crown rapidly. Spot fires are common. All burn fiercely and may blow up unless controlled properly.”
Because of this warning, all fires in wooded areas are currently prohibited unless in an elevated prepared fireplace, an elevated charcoal grill or stove using electricity or a liquid or gas fuel.
Due to the gusty winds and dry conditions, the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning, one that has stood since early last week. Wind gusts are expected to reach 40 mph today.
“The potential exists for rapid spread if uncontrolled fires develop or even for prescribed burns to get out of control,” the service said. “A combination of strong winds and low relative humidity will create explosive fire growth potential.”
The NWS Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will develop shortly.
Just last week, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin urged the public to exercise caution during these dry and windy conditions. Fire danger is currently rated as high throughout most of the state, meaning wildfires, once started, can spread rapidly.
"Conditions have been dry coming out of the winter and into early spring," Martin said. "A carelessly tossed match or cigarette, an improperly tended campfire, even a poorly maintained chimney can spark disaster."
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has responded to 359 wildfires that have burned 286.75 acres so far this year. That number is up by 44 wildfires and 32.75 more acres since just Wednesday, April 4 and is compared with 167 fires that burned 176 acres during the same period last year.
"We've been experiencing a series of weak cold fronts that bring little precipitation but cause higher winds and lower humidity that can dry out forest," said Forest Fire Service Acting Chief Michael Drake. "As a result, the Forest Fire Service is stepping up fire patrols, manning of fire observation towers, and other response capabilities."
Fire danger is exacerbated by the fact that the forest canopy has not leafed out, allowing the sun and wind to dry the forest floor.
Ninety-nine percent of all wildfires in New Jersey are caused by human activity, usually carelessness, negligence or arson.
To reduce the risks of fires, the state forest fire service asks residents to follow these guidelines:
- Use ashtrays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking materials is a violation of New Jersey law.
- Obtain necessary permits for campfires. Don't leave fires unattended. Douse them completely.
- Keep matches and lighters away from children. Teach them the dangers of fire.
- People living in the forest should maintain a defensible buffer by clearing vegetation within 30 feet of any structures. Also, make sure fire trucks can pass down your driveway.
- Report suspicious vehicles and individuals. Arson is a major cause of forest fires in New Jersey.