NJ officials say nice spring days means right conditions for wildfires

Molly Daly
April 24, 2019 - 4:02 pm
Forest fire.

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NEW JERSEY (KYW Newsradio) — It's peak wildfire season in New Jersey and state forest fire service officials held a telephone news conference late Wednesday morning to get the word out.

Although you may think summer is prime wildfire time, state forest service Fire Warden Greg McLaughlin says spring's weather makes wildfires more likely.

"Take a situation, especially in the Pinelands, where it may have rained on a Monday. The predominance of sandy soils, those soils don't hold the moisture, deciduous vegetation's not leafed out, the sun dries out those fuels, those pine needles on the ground, and within a day of a good rain, we could have a situation where humidity's low and the wind picks up where it's conducive to large fire spread," McLaughlin said. 

And, he says, Mother Nature isn't the primary fire bug. 

"99 percent of all fires are caused by people. Could be intentional, arsonist and accidental. About one percent are lightning or other causes," he said. 

By this time last year, the wettest on record, officials say the state had up to 201 wildfires. This year, the number's up to 331.

Related: NJ legislators discuss Pinelands fire protection plans

But McLaughlin says that in the off season, they've been fighting fire with fire with prescribed burns. 

"By using fire as a tool to consume some of the fuels that are out in the forest, the pine needles and the shrubs, that ultimately helps us suppress fires more readily, and it prevents fires from spreading and becoming large fires," he explained. 

But their best efforts to reduce the fuel can only accomplish so much, so they're asking you to be mindful as you spend more time outside, so that the only smoke that gets in your eyes will come from your barbecue.