With the hot, dry weather continuing fire danger levels in New Jersey are starting to rise.

Much of the state is now facing a moderate wildfire risk, but officials are warning that could shoot higher by the end of this week.

Greg McLaughlin, the chief of the State Forest Fire Service and the New Jersey forest fire warden, said a big part of the problem is leaves are already starting to fall off the trees and “any additional fuels that accumulate on the forest floor such as leaves and pine needles, are things that can contribute to a fire start and a fire spread.”

“We’re seeing a premature fall season starting here in August that we wouldn’t normally see until perhaps mid or late October.”

He said especially with the dry conditions we have right now, if you are doing any kind of outdoor cooking or barbecuing be extra careful.

“A (camp) fire isn’t really considered out unless that fire is cold to the touch," he said.

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Things could change quickly

McLaughlin noted with everything this dry and so many leaves already on the ground, “we could go from a low fire danger to a high or extreme fire danger, that can change quickly in a matter of days.”

He said with temperatures in the 80s, even if there is thunderstorm activity in the Pinelands, where the soil is sandy, “we could potentially have significant fires on the same day or within a day or two from that rainfall because that moisture is not being held in the soil.”

He noted most wildfires actually start on the ground, and then depending on conditions, will work their way up through shrubs and into the tree tops.


Danger can spread quickly

“That’s a fire that’s of very significant concern because it can spread quickly from tree top to tree top and what happens is it also can spread by sending burning embers of bark long distances,” he said.

McLaughlin noted over the past week statewide “we have experienced 81 fires, which is about 40% more than we would normally see at this time of year.”

He said most of these fires have been small, but there is always the potential for this kind of blaze to quickly get out of hand.

If there is any kind of forest fire, keep drones grounded

When a wildfire breaks out, the Forest Fire Service will frequently use low-flying aircraft to assist in fire suppression efforts. Drones become a flight hazard.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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