NJ FIREFIGHTERS RETURN HOME FROM FLORIDA WILDFIRES
Thirty-one New Jersey firefighters who were sent to battle the series
of wildfires that burned nearly half a million acres of wood lands and
residential areas in Florida returned home today, announced State
Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service crews were requested to assist
Florida firefighters on July 2 through an inter-state agreement
between Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. The federal government will
reimburse the state for all the costs associated with the effort.
This was the first time that the state had sent firefighters to
Florida under the interstate agreement.
Of the 39 firefighters that served, 11 were from South Jersey, 11
from Central Jersey and nine from North Jersey. They arrived today at
Philadelphia International Airport. Earlier,
eight firefighters returned home.
One New Jersey firefighter received injuries. Sean Morgart, 28, from
Burlington County injured his foot and is currently undergoing medical
More than 2,200 wildfires burned nearly half a million acres of
Florida's land since Memorial Day. Approximately 126 homes, and 25
businesses were destroyed, and 179 firefighters suffered injuries.
"We're grateful for the safe return of our firefighters who answered
the call and traveled South to battle these blazes. Their dedication
and bravery is to be commended. It's through this type of interagency
support that everyone in the nation benefits. We're also thankful to
the State Forest Fire Service for keeping their staff trained in the
latest forest fire suppression methods and assuring that we will be
assisted in similar incidents," Shinn said.
Since January, more than 860 wildfires have burned 817 acres in New
Jersey. With temperatures approaching triple digits this week, Shinn
stressed the need for residents to take steps to avert wildfires.
DEP's State Fire Warden David Harrison said a survey of the state
indicates that Central and South Jersey are experiencing dry
conditions, although an advisory for recreational fires has not been
Shinn noted that the Pine Barrens are extremely susceptible to
wildfires and dry out in one or two days. He said the occurrence of
wildfires is a largely preventable
problem with nine out of 10 fires being attributed to either human
carelessness or intentional acts.
"With an ounce of prevention these losses can be prevented," Shinn said.
Shinn issued the following guidelines to reduce the risk of fires and
- 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
- Keep matches away from children and explain the dangers of fire.
- Check with local fire officials about open burning restrictions.
Governor Whitman in June 1997 signed into law a bill that increases
the penalties for anyone who deliberately starts a wildfire 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
The New Jersey Forest Service, part of DEP's Division of Parks and
Forestry, is responsible for protecting 3.15 million acres of New
Jersey open space from wildfires. In 1995, they were honored by the
U.S. Forest Service for assistance during the 1994 fire season-one of
the worst-in the west.
The Forest Fire Service also provides training to volunteer fire
companies in basic wildlife suppression and interface tactics under
two federal programs-the Rural Community Fire Protection Program and
the Federal Excess Property Program. Both of these programs are
administered under cooperative mutual aid agreements. The service
maintains cooperative agreements with other state agencies, military
installations, the National Park Service and the Middle Atlantic
Forest Fire Protection compact for mutual assistance during wildfire