New Jersey

Dry air and gusty winds increase wildfire risk in New Jersey

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, NJ (CBS) – Dry air and gusty winds are increasing the risk of wildfires in South Jersey. On Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, meaning any fire that breaks out can quickly spiral out of control.

It is a scene like this that the authorities are warning. It’s a 400-acre wildfire starting March 7 in Little Egg Harbor Township.

“This year through February, we had 119 fires statewide,” said Greg McLaughlin, chief of the NJ Forest Fire Service. “During the same period last year, January and February, we had 71 fires, so we saw an increase in activity.”

McLaughlin says wildfire season normally starts in mid-March, but this year it started a month earlier, thanks in part to a mild winter.

“The snow, because it’s heavier, will compact some of those pine needles and leaves on the forest floor and reduce the amount of air space between them. So it might take a bit more energy to start a fire,” McLaughlin said.

But this year there hasn’t been that accumulation of snow, so any fire that does break out is more likely to spread quickly. And it could happen even in small wooded areas near neighborhoods.

On Sunday, a brush fire broke out on Feiler Court near an apartment complex in Lawrence Township.

Elizabeth Carney smelled the smoke.

“My husband thought maybe bacon, the neighbors were cooking something, and uh, I thought no, it’s probably a fire,” Carney said.

As high winds and dry air create opportunities for explosive fire growth, McLaughlin urges residents to take precautions.

“People think spring, you know, they’re doing this cleaning there, maybe they’re putting out the ashes in their woodstove or their fireplace. And you know, we see fires starting because of that kind inactivity because people don’t realize that those coals in those fireplaces might not be extinguished,” McLaughlin said.

If conditions allow, the New Jersey Wildfire Department will begin conducting more prescribed burns this week to remove hazardous fuels and reduce the likelihood of extreme wildfires.

Madeleine Wright


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