South Jersey wildfire now 50% contained

The Allen Road Wildfire has burned more than 5,000 acres within the Bass River State Forest and was 50% contained as of Thursday evening.

Overhead view of smoke coming up over the top of Bass State Forest.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, New Jersey officials said the Allen Road Wildfire within the Bass River State Forest, which has burned over 5,000 acres, is 50% contained. (Courtesy of 6abc)

Firefighters have made progress controlling a burning wildfire in southern Burlington County.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, New Jersey officials said the Allen Road Wildfire within the Bass River State Forest, which has burned over 5,000 acres, is 50% contained.

The fire was detected by fire towers in the area around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday. Shortly after, emergency calls came in.

When fire crews first arrived, at least 15 acres were burned. But officials said the flames were so intense firefighters could not directly attack the blaze.

“This fire exhibited extreme… behavior throughout the night, even with high humidities,” said John Earlin Jr., forest fire warden and incident commander, adding fire crews had to implement an indirect attack on the blaze. “[The fire] is a result of the extremely dry conditions that we’ve exhibited continuing from last year into this year.”

Forty people, described as “seasonal residents,” of the Timberline Campground, have been evacuated, though officials said they were less concerned about the fire moving towards the campground.

“We still want to have less traffic and just less people in harm’s way,” said Greg McLaughlin, chief and state fire warden with the state Forest Fire Service.

He added that crews will be battling the fire “for several days to come.”

A history lesson of fires

In past decades, nine firefighters have died battling forest fires in the same area. In 1936, five members of the Civilian Conservation Corps lost their lives fighting a wildfire that burned 46,000 acres. Four members of the Eagleswood Township Volunteer Fire Company were killed in 1977 fighting a blaze that consumed 2,300 acres.

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Officials say they’ve learned lessons since those fires.

“We’ve bettered our equipment, and we’ve used different tactics to put our people at better safety,” said Trevor Raynor, assistant division fire warden, who added that the last major fire in the area in 1999 burned about 11,000 acres.

The area is very thick and very overgrown, according to John Cecil, an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Protection. He adds it’s a “tricky spot” for them as they’ve planned to do activities to control the fuels — like pine needles and leaves — that contribute to a wildfire.

“We’re concerned about the history that this area holds with the fatalities of forest fires,” he said. “We also have concerns about the habitat here, the environment, the carbon that these trees protect within this block of forest that will burn out over the next 24 hours or so.”

Wildfire season in the Garden State has been extended due to climate change. A recent analysis found that four additional fire weather days have been added in South Jersey over the last five decades. Earlier in the season, officials urged residents to take preventative measures to keep wildfires from sparking.

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