NJ wildfire burns an astounding 13,000+ acres as smoke spreads farther
As firefighters get a better handle on the Wharton State Forest fire that started on Sunday, more of New Jersey will smell the smoke and see the haze on Tuesday.
The fire that started Sunday morning in a remote area of Wharton State Forest continues to burn Tuesday morning and has consumed 13,500 acres of forest as of Tuesday morning, according to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
Forest Fire chief Gregory McLaughlin said the fire is not expected to exceed the projected containment area of 15,175 acres.
The fire is on track to be New Jersey's largest since a fire that charred 14,000 acres near the Warren Grove firing range in 2007.
Firefighters have contained 95% of the fire as of late Tuesday afternoon and, depending on the wind Tuesday, could be close to 100% contained by day's end. But a shift in the wind means more of New Jersey will be aware of the fire.
"The wind direction is shifting today, from northerly to southerly. So more of New Jersey will probably experience the smoky smell, hazy sky, and poor air quality," New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said.
McLaughlin said an increase in humidity will make the smoke remain closer to the ground. He recommended people who have issues with smoke should stay indoors until it clears.
Air quality in Toms River reached unhealthy levels, according to the NJ DEP air monitoring website.
"I expect that smoke to linger and lay for several days until the weather pattern changes again and we get some wind and we get dispersion," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said there are approximately 75 Forest Service firefighters working to contain the fire using 22 pieces of equipment including trucks and helicopters scooping water up and dumping it onto the fire. He did not yet have an estimate on the host of the fire.
Fire crews will remain on the job for at least the next week or until there is a significant rainfall. Scattered ground fires will also cause smoke to be visible.
Roads reopened, trails stay closed
McLaughlin on Tuesday said an illegal, unattended makeshift campfire the likely cause of the fire.
"This was not at a designated campsite where it would have been permitted in a camping area. This was in a remote area of the forest that was a makeshift fire. Whether someone was camping there overnight or an extended period of time or just stopped there in their travels and decided to have a fire," McLaughlin said.
He said that given the nice weather during the Father's Day and Juneteenth weekend there were a lot of people in the park.
Route 206 reopened on Tuesday morning along with Route 542. Basto Village, the Atsion Recreation Area, Mullica River Campground and Lower Forde Campground and Pinelands Adventures will likely reopen by Wednesday, according to Rob Auermiller, the superintendent of Wharton State Forest. Hiking trails will remain closed until they are checked.
Fifty people, who were mostly campers and visitors, were forced to leave the area affected by the fire. 18 structures at Pinelands Adventure were threatened by the fire.
"We do not have any expected timeframe as to when trips can safely resume, and ask for your understanding as we take this day by day and the fire is contained," the campground wrote on its Facebook page. "Thank you to all of the fire and emergency services for the hasty response and continued battle."