Wildfires in Burlington, Ocean counties under control but still smoky
Firefighters have a good handle on two major wildfires that have burned through a combined 1,000 acres in Burlington and Ocean counties during the past two days. Smoky conditions, however, are expected to remain in Ocean County.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service said Tuesday afternoon the fire in the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in Pemberton Township, which burned 407 acres, is 50% contained. It was first reported around 10:20 p.m. Monday night.
Assistant Division Forest Firewarden Jeremy Webber said that the 30 firefighters still on scene are working on burning out the remaining fuels.
Webber said no structures were damaged and no one was injured. The 53 mile Batona Trail in the forest has been closed to public use in the area of the fire.
The fire that started Sunday afternoon in the Bass River State Forest in Little Egg Harbor was 100% contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Fire Service, which said crews remain at the scene for cleanup and public safety.
Smoke is expected to remain in the area for several days due to the warm and dry weather conditions.
Residents of about 100 homes were evacuated and offered shelter at Pinelands Middle School. The fire came as close as the backyards of many homes, Trevor Raynor, incident commander of the fire, said.
Assistant Commissioner Ray Bukowski said that it's not uncommon to have a fire at this time of the season and it may have helped the ecology of the forest by burning out trees and brush and preventing future fires.
Until there is a good soaking rain, the risk of fire will remain high across the state, according to New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow, who said that we will have low humidity, dry conditions and increasing winds until at least the weekend.
The causes of both fires remain under investigation.
State Firewarden Greg McLaughlin said that the first major wildfire of the year, a wildfire on March 14 in Lakewood and Brick along the Garden State Parkway, also remained under investigation.
McLaughlin said he spoke with Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, who called it a "slow process." Billhimer said an initial investigation has determined the fire was intentionally set but no one has yet been charged.