New Jersey has entered the most dangerous part of the year for forest fires.

According to State Fire Warden and Forest Fire Service Chief Greg McLaughlin, peak wildfire season, which can feature low humidity and high winds is now underway.

Why has the danger level increased?

“We have longer days, stronger sun, the fuels on the forest floor dry out quickly, particularly in the Pine Barrens region of the state,” he said.

He said even if there’s rain on a given morning in the Pine Barrens a fire can break out in the afternoon because the soils are sandy and they don’t have the ability to retain moisture for a long period of time.

McLaughlin said trees are not leafed out yet so there is no shade on the leaves and shrubs that cover the ground in forested areas where fires start. That makes spring a fire season.

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He noted most people assume fire danger is highest during the summer when it’s hot and they hear about fires in other states but that is not the case unless there are drought conditions in.

Fire
David McNew/Getty Images
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How do wildfires start?

McLaughlin said there’s a small percentage of fires caused by lightning strikes but as much as 99% of wildfires across the country are started by people.

He noted even though New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, 42% of the state is forested and almost half of our homes and other structures are located right next to forests.

“It’s those areas that we’re most concerned about because we often have to deal with a high complexity of issues, in terms of evacuations, structure protection,” he said.

Wildfire in Little Egg Harbor
Wildfire in Little Egg Harbor (Roman Isaryk Jr. via Ocean County Sheriff)
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McLaughlin stressed awareness about fire danger at this time of year is key.

“People want to get outside, they want to enjoy the outdoors and we want them to enjoy our parks and forests and get outside and enjoy that but to be careful if they’re using fire,” he said.

From now through the middle of May the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is reminding residents:

• Don’t discard cigarettes, matches or smoking materials on the ground.
• Obtain required permits for campfires from your nearest Forest Fire Service office.
• Don’t leave fires unattended and be sure to douse them completely, until cold to the touch.
• Keep matches and lighters away from children. Teach youth about fire safety.
• Protect your home and other structures from wildfire by creating Defensible Space.
• Ensure fire trucks can access driveways.
• Report suspicious vehicles and individuals to authorities.
• Use wood stoves and fireplaces carefully, since both can emit embers that spark fires. Fully douse ashes with water before disposal.
• Visit www.njwildfire.org for more information

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