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DEP Urges Public to be Fire Wise as Spring Forest Fire Season Heats Up

(03/67) TRENTON - Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today warned that the danger of wildfires is rising sharply as New Jersey’s forests dry out from an unusually wet spring.

The state Forest Fire Service has responded so far this year to 396 blazes that burned 790 acres. This is fewer than the 893 wildfires reported during the same period last year, but the fire frequency has increased in recent weeks as the forest floor has dried out.

“Fire danger is always highest this time of year when plants have not yet leafed out, allowing the drying rays of the sun to strike the forest floor,” Campbell said. “People need to be particularly careful with matches and lit cigarettes so they don’t unintentionally cause a fire that could threaten homes and lives.”

Ninety-nine percent of all wildfires in New Jersey are caused by human activity, usually carelessness or arson, he noted.

The largest wildfires this year include a 275-acre blaze on April 16 in Waterford, Camden County, and a 90-acre fire on April 15 in Old Bridge, Middlesex County. On Monday, the Forest Fire Service responded to a three-acre fire in Monroe Township and a one-acre fire in Waterford Township, both in Camden County.

The fire danger is currently moderate to high, signifying that fires will start from a lighted match and spread rapidly in dry grass.

DEP Chief State Firewarden Maris Gabliks said wildfire risks increase with every new structure built in or adjacent to forests. Wildfires can spread quickly in New Jersey, threatening homes, property, natural resources and human lives.

“Wildfires have the potential to affect entire communities and the quality of life New Jersey residents enjoy in our forests and open spaces,” Gabliks said.

To reduce the risk of fires, people should follow these guidelines:

  • Use ashtrays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking materials is a violation of New Jersey law.
  • Drown campfires. Obtain necessary permits. Don’t leave fires unattended.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children and explain to them the dangers of fire.
  • People living in the forest should maintain a defensible buffer by clearing vegetation within 30 feet of any structures. Also, make sure firetrucks can pass down your driveway.
  • Report suspicious vehicles and individuals. Arson is a major cause of forest fires in New Jersey.
  • Check with your local Forest Firewarden about burning conditions.

Fire permits are required for recreational fires, as well as for agricultural burning. The New Jersey Air Pollution Control Act prohibits open burning of rubbish, garbage, trade waste, buildings, fallen timber and leaves or plants. For information on obtaining permits for recreational or agricultural burning, call the nearest DEP Forest Fire Office:

  • Northern Forest Fire Headquarters in Franklin, Sussex County, (973) 827-6100
  • Central Forest Fire Headquarters in New Lisbon, Burlington County, (609) 726-9010
  • Southern Forest Fire Headquarters in Mays Landing, Atlantic County, (609) 625-1121

Unintentional violations of forest fire laws carry a maximum penalty of $5,000 for each offense, plus all fire suppression costs. Arson and other willful violations are subject to a maximum penalty of $100,000 for each offense plus all suppression costs.

For more information on wildfires and fire safety, please visit the New Jersey Forest Fire Service web site at




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Last Updated: July 14, 2010