South Jersey forest fire 75 percent contained, spreads across 10,000 acres

A smoke plume over Toms River, New Jersey. (Courtesy of Michael Ocello)

A smoke plume over Toms River, New Jersey. (Courtesy of Michael Ocello)

Updated: 4:00 p.m.

A wildfire that spread across 10,000 acres of New Jersey’s Penn State Forest is about 75 percent contained, state officials said Sunday afternoon.

The fire, which began early Saturday afternoon, is in a remote area of Burlington County near the Ocean County border, and is the largest the state has seen since 2007, according to Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

There are no evacuations ordered or injuries reported, Hajna said.

There are voluntary evacuations in the Chatsworth section of Woodland, although no homes are in immediate danger, according to the Burlington County Times.

“First responders are working quickly to limit further expansion,” said Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement. “The cause is under investigation and we remind all of those in and around the affected area to remain vigilant, and heed the instructions of safety officials.”

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service, along with local fire departments, are battling the blaze from land and air and undertaking a burn-out operation, a method employed to help contain fires.

Route 72 – a major link to the Jersey Shore, which shut down Saturday because of the fire — has reopened in both directions between Route 532 in Woodland Township and Route 539 in Barnegat Township, according to Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain.

Jonathan O’Brien, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour, along with recent drier weather, allowed the fire to spread quickly.

The southerly winds continue to push smoke and ash northward.

Smoke could be smelled throughout nearby Ocean County and across eastern New Jersey Saturday night, even as far north as the Newark area, O’Brien said, because of a “temperature inversion, which happens when temperatures increase 1,000 to 1,500 feet above ground and smoke gets trapped close to the surface.”

However, he said the smoke should begin to clear.

“The front will shift winds from the south to southwest to the north to northwest, which will help to improve smoke dispersion,” O’Brien said, noting that while Sunday’s rain showers “don’t hurt,” they will not be heavy enough to help extinguish the fire.

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