NEVER TOO EARLY TO PREVENT FOREST FIRES
It only takes one or two days for the forests in the Pine Barrens to dry out and
about a week or two for the rest of the state's hardwood forests to become ripe
for a fire, according to State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn.
Before the height of the spring forest fire season is reached, Shinn issued a
reminder to all to take extra precautions when visiting forested and recreational
areas during the critical spring forest fire period--March 15-May 15.
"Despite all the rain received over the last several months, warming
temperatures, high winds and low relative humidity make our forests and open areas
susceptible to fires this time of year," Shinn said.
Shinn noted that the occurrence of wildfire is a largely preventable problem
with nine out of 10 fires being attributed to either human carelessness or
"Accidental or intentionally set fires in the long run cost taxpayers money
and damage and destroy natural resources and structures. With an ounce of
prevention and a lot of care and vigilance, these losses can be prevented,"
Shinn issued the following guidelines to reduce the risk of fires and chance
- Use ash trays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking material
is a violation of state law.
- Clean up around homes in forested areas. Remove flammable material.
- Maintain a firebreak of at least 30 feet around forest homes.
- Report suspicious vehicles and individuals. Arson is a major cause of forest
fires in the state.
- Drown campfires, obtain necessary permits and don't leave fires unattended.
- Keep matches away from children and explain the dangers of fire.
- Check with local fire officials about open burning restrictions.
Fire permits are required for recreational fires and agricultural burning.
The New Jersey Air Pollution Control Act prohibits open burning of rubbish,
garbage, trade waste, buildings, fallen timber and leaves or plant life. To
obtain permits or information on permits for recreational fires or agricultural
burning, call the nearest DEP Forest Fire Office:
- Northern Forest Fire Headquarters in Franklin, Sussex County
- Central Forest Fire Headquarters in New Lisbon, Burlington County
- Southern Forest Fire Headquarters in Mays Landing, Atlantic County
Governor Whitman in June signed into law a bill that increases the penalties
for anyone who deliberately starts a fire or causes an explosion that maims or
injures any emergency services personnel. Under the bill, any person who
purposely starts a fire or causes an explosion which results in bodily injury
to any emergency service personnel commits the crime of aggravated assault as
well as arson.
The penalty for the crime will be based upon the severity of the victim's
injuries. If the victim suffers bodily injury, the crime would be one of the
third-degree. If the victim suffers serious or significant bodily injury, the
crime would be one of the second-degree. A crime of the third-degree can carry
a sentence of between three and five years. A crime of the second-degree can
carry a sentence of between five and ten years. Civil penalties under Title
13 include unintentional violations of forest fire law with a maximum penalty
of $5,000 for each offense, plus all fire suppression costs. Willful
violations such as arson are subject to a maximum penalty of $100,000 for
each offense plus all suppression costs.
The Bureau of Forest Fire Management, part of DEP's Division of Parks and
Forestry, is responsible for protecting 3.2 million acres of state and privately