The Wharton State Forest fire that began as a small blaze on Sunday morning will have destroyed an estimated 15,000 acres before it’s completely put out, making it the largest wildfire in New Jersey in the past 15 years.

As crews continued to work on Tuesday to completely extinguish the blaze, smoke spread out over some regions of the state, causing hazy conditions and some air quality issues.

According to Shawn LaTourette, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, this didn’t have to happen.

He said most wildfires are caused by carelessness and “it’s important to recognize that because it places us, within our power, to avoid circumstances like this.”

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Illegal campfire suspected

During an update on the wildfire on Tuesday, New Jersey Forest Fire Service Chief Greg McLaughlin said in all likelihood an illegal, unattended makeshift campfire was the likely cause of the blaze.

In New Jersey, you need a permit to go camping in a designated campsite within a state forest, and your permit serves as your campfire permit, but only within that specified area.

camping tent
(Getty Stock)

“I don’t think it’s the case that people are generally of ill will," LaTourette said. "I don’t think anyone wants to see thousands of acres of our Pinelands go up in smoke, but all of our actions have consequences.”

Be careful in nature

“We’ve got to take our use of the natural environment really seriously, and that includes making sure that we’re avoiding forest fire risk," LaTourette said.

Because pitching a tent and building a campfire outside of a designated campsite is against the law, he noted “illegal campfires, campfires that are not fully extinguished continue to pose a great risk.”

He said all of us need to make sure we take care of each other in New Jersey “by making sure that we’re following the rules and avoiding wildfire risk, it’s serious, it’s not a Smoky Bear cartoon, it’s real.”

WIldfire in Wharton State Forest 6/19/22
WIldfire in Wharton State Forest 6/19/22 (6 ABC Action News)

The investigation into the start of the wildfire is continuing and state officials have not ruled out possible criminal charges being filed once the probe has been completed.

These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

Cape May, NJ: 15 wonderful places to visit

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