Wildfire burns over 11,000 acres of NJ forest: Still out of control
A wind-whipped wildfire that started Sunday in Wharton State Forest has consumed more than 11,000 acres and continues to burn late Monday afternoon.
Backfire operations helped contain 45% of the fire by 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning. The percentage controlled increased to 50% by mid afternoon.
The area damaged by fire is now more than the land area of Jersey City or Sayreville or West Deptford.
The fire is expected to burn 15,000 acres, making it the biggest wildfire in the state in 15 years. Officials expect to fully contain the fire as soon as Tuesday morning or as late as Wednesday.
About 60 firefighters are battling the blaze along with helicopters equipped to dump 325 gallons of water at a time.
A natural cause of the fire has been ruled out but it remains under investigation whether it was intentionally set
Fire crews are burning vegetation to counteract the fire and protect Paradise Campground.
About 50 people have been evacuated, mostly campers and visitors.
Route 206 and 542 remained closed in the area.
Fire started Sunday
The fire started early Sunday afternoon in a remote area of the forest along the Mullica River, according to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
The size of the fire grew to 600 acres by early Sunday evening in Washington, Shamong Hammonton and Mullica townships. Dry and breezy conditions helped fuel the fire and tripled its size to 2,100 acres by 11 p.m.
The Forest Fire Service said 7,200 acres were burned as of 10:30 a.m. Monday.
The number of structures threatened by the fire increased to 18 in the Paradise Lakes Campground and the surrounding area. Fire companies are also protecting structures at Batsto Village.
Winds out of the northwest have pushed smoke and haze over South Jersey, especially Atlantic County, according to New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow.
Fire seen from space
Radar was showing the smoke plume prominently Sunday afternoon but not on Monday, according to Zarrow.
"The air is still ridiculously dry, which contributes to high fire danger," Zarrow said. "Winds Monday will be much lighter than over the weekend, which will help firefighting efforts. What we could really use right now is a good soaking rain, which won't arrive until tomorrow night at the earliest."
Road closures, disruptions
The fire has led to the closure of Route 206 between Chew Road to Stokes Road in Hammonton and Route 542 from Green Bank Road to Columbia Road in Egg Harbor City.
Pinelands Adventures has suspended kayak and canoe trips. Batsto Village has also closed its hiking and mountain bike trails. The Mullica River trail and boat launch is also closed because of the fire.
The Atsion Recreation Area, Mullica River Campground and Lower Forde Campground were also closed on Monday.