ATLANTIC COUNTY MAN CHARGED WITH SETTING WILDFIRES IN MULLICA TOWNSHIP
(14/P95) TRENTON –A joint investigation by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and the Mullica Township Police Department has led to the arrest of a 38-year-old Atlantic County man for setting at least a dozen small wildfires in Mullica Township during July and August.
As a result of the investigation, the Mullica Police Department charged Michael Evangelista of Mullica Township with multiple counts of arson in connection with the fires that occurred over a six-week period in the Nesco section of the township.
Forest Fire Service and Nesco Fire Department personnel were able to respond quickly and control the fires before they had a chance to spread. All of the fires were an acre or less and no property was damaged. Mullica Township is located within the Pinelands National Reserve.
Evangelista was arrested Aug. 30 and lodged in the Atlantic County Justice Facility in Mays Landing in lieu of $35,000 bail. If convicted, Evangelista will be responsible for the cost of suppressing the fires.
Surveillance and the Forest Fire Service K-9 unit were utilized during the course of the investigation.
Due largely to a very busy spring fire season, wildfires have burned 6,431 acres across the state through Aug. 31, compared to 944 acres through the same period last year. While fire conditions are currently low across the state due to frequent rainfall, wildfires can become more frequent in fall when trees lose their leaves.
Ninety-nine percent of all wildfires in New Jersey are caused by human activity, usually carelessness, negligence or arson. The DEP’s Division of Forestry Services works to prevent wildfires year-round through public outreach and education efforts, prescribed burning operations, and maintenance of fire breaks.
Report suspicious activity to your local police department, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service or the DEP hotline at 877-WARNDEP (877-927-6337). For more information on wildfires and fire safety as well as contact numbers for regional Forest Fire Service offices, visit www.njwildfire.org.