It’s Prime Wildfire Season in NJ Thanks to Us Humans
The late March wildfire that consumed more than 11,000 acres of land in the Pinelands was one of just 331 forest fires handled by crews so far in 2019.
Preventive measures and strategic attacks on flames keep most fires from stretching beyond 10 acres and getting much attention from the media or public.
This time of year, through May, is considered peak wildfire season in New Jersey. Humidity can be low, it's often warm and windy, and many trees lack leaves to provide proper shade for the branches and pine needles — a.k.a. wildfire fuel — that's fallen to the ground.
But even with that perfect storm of conditions, a fire typically can't start until one more ingredient is introduced — a human being who lacks common sense.
"Ninety-nine percent of all fires are caused by people," said State Forest Fire Service Firewarden Greg McLaughlin. "It could be intentional, arsonists, it could be accidental."
An investigation continues into the fire, one of the largest in recent New Jersey history, that started March 30 in a remote section of Penn State Forest, Burlington County. The state has said the fire was started by human activity in an area known for illegal bonfires. According to officials, two men pictured next to the forest fire — who eventually spoke with police — are not considered suspects.
Since January, the state has participated in prescribed burns on more than 22,216 acres of land throughout New Jersey. Crews use handheld torches to set smaller fires and burn away objects such as fallen leaves and branches, in order to limit the spread of a potential blaze in the future.
All fires start on the ground, McLaughlin said, and work their way up through layers of vegetation.
The risk for wildfire is also elevated in the fall. The threat remains in the summer, even though humidity tends to be high and leaves provide plenty of shade for the ground below.
During this prime wildfire season, Forest Fire Service personnel are on the lookout, from towers, on days of high fire risk. On days considered the most dangerous, the state contracts aircraft to be on call to respond to situations and douse flames from above.
To report a wildfire, residents are encouraged to call 9-1-1 or 1-877-WARN-DEP.