Annual forest fire mitigation program is underway in N.J.

District wardens Kevin Morrissey, left, and Mike Moran, right, working during a prescribed burn at Monmouth Battlefield State Park on March 8, 2014. (Courtesy of Pete Monaco, NJFFS)

District wardens Kevin Morrissey, left, and Mike Moran, right, working during a prescribed burn at Monmouth Battlefield State Park on March 8, 2014. (Courtesy of Pete Monaco, NJFFS)

A seasonal program for mitigating forest fire risk is underway throughout New Jersey.

According to the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service, the prescribed burning program reduces wildfire risks by burning buildup of undergrowth, fallen trees and branches, leaves and other debris on forest floors.

“Since 1906, the Forest Fire Service has protected property, lives and infrastructure by creating defensible space and strategic fire breaks near developed areas,” said New Jersey Forest Fire Service Chief Greg McLaughlin. “These prescribed burns help prevent wildfires, reduce the intensity of these fires, and provide a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.”

Prescribed fires, also known as controlled burns, are generally conducted during the mid to late winter months to minimize the amount of smoke produced and when weather conditions tend to be safer for controlled fires, according to the DEP.

Pending weather conditions this season, the state Forest Fire Service, part of the DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry, expects to burn between 35,000 acres of forests and grasslands. Most burns are on state-owned property, such as state forests, parks and wildlife management areas.

Unlike wildfires, prescribed burns do not reach the forest canopy or cause significant loss of mature trees, the state release said.

With sandy soil that drains rapidly, the New Jersey Pinelands region is highly susceptible to wildfires, although one state fire official doesn’t think the state is at risk of widely destructive fires such as Australia’s bushfires.

McLaughlin recently told NJ 101.5 that the state relies on a variety of wildfire suppression efforts — including staffed fire towers, the deployment of specialized equipment into fire areas, and rapid air support — to quickly contain any fires. Most of the wildfires, McLaughlin said, are contained to under an acre.

The state experienced two major wildfires in 2019. In March, fire consumed 10,000 acres in Penn State Forest. A wildfire consumed 1,800 acres in Wharton State Forest in June.

When in doubt about the source of the smoke or fire, the DEP advises calling 9-1-1 or 877-WARN-DEP (877-927-6337).

The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry posts the prescribed burning schedule on its Facebook page.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.