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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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RELEASE: 3/17/98
CONTACT: Sharon A. Southard or Amy Collings
609-984-1795 or 609-292-2994


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 intentional acts.

"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," he said.

Shinn issued the following guidelines to reduce the risk of fires and chance ignitions:

  • 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
    (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.

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 owned forests.


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