When it comes to the spring season, what we don't look forward to in New Jersey are the brush and forest fires.

Just this week there have been several minor brush fires scattered around the state, each burning dozens of acres in Port Republic and in Hunterdon County on Wednesday and Monmouth and Ocean counties on Thursday.

According to New Jersey State Forest Fire Warden Bill Edwards, the period from March 15 to May 15 is prime time for Jersey brush and forest fires.

Edwards says with most trees still without leaves, "even though it might have rained a day or two before, the forest dries very quickly. This time of year, before the leaves green out in the forest, it can be a more hazardous. The sun is allowed to beat directly down on to the forest floor, and that dries the forest very quickly."

In South Jersey, that drying occurs in a forest where the potential for fires is especially high: the Pine Barrens. According to Edwards, the Pine Barrens' soil is sandy, so any kind of moisture drains quickly and the forest floor dries quicker.

"This time of year, our conditions can get extreme if we are dealing with winds and lower humidity," he says.

And the late March/early April period is also known for its gusty days. Edwards says wind is probably the biggest weather factor is spreading a blaze once it gets going, "of all the weather factors, it is wind that is the most crucial as far as driving a fire and making it larger.

As for the cause, Edwards says, "almost all of our fires are human-caused."

Cigarettes actually get blamed for more fires than they actually cause, although "you do not want to throw [cigarette butts] onto the forest floor. You want to be careful."

The bigger culprits are campfires and machines that may send out sparks.

"It is mostly just common sense," he says.

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