A seasonal program that aims to mitigate forest fire risk is now 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 Greg McLaughlin, Acting Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “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.
Depending on weather conditions this season, the state Forest Fire Service, part of the DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry, expects to burn between 30,000 acres of forests and grasslands this season. Most burns are on state-owned property, such as state forests, parks, and wildlife management areas.
Unlike wildfires, prescribed burns do reach the forest canopy or cause significant loss of mature trees, the state release says.
With sandy soil that drains rapidly, the New Jersey Pinelands region is highly susceptible to wildfires.
In 2017, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service responded to 753 wildfires, of which 74 percent were a quarter-acre or smaller. The largest was a 3,477-acre conflagration in Wharton State Forest in Burlington County.
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).
Follow the New Jersey Forests Facebook page for daily prescribed burn schedules.