The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is starting its seasonal program of controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfires raging out of control in the spring.
The prescribed burns eliminate fallen twigs and leaves that could cause a fire to burn hotter and ignite the trees, said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
“By keeping that tinder down to a minimum, we can protect properties and lives in communities that surround the forest or are actually nestled within the forests,” he said.
The seasonal burns also keep the forests healthier, Hajna said.
“Without controlled burns, our forests can become essentially choked out by competing vegetation,” he said. “Some of it may be invasive species that don’t belong in the forest, and this allows mature trees to thrive.”
Fire officials take weather and geographical factors into consideration.
“Whether it’s wetlands or Forest Fire Service roads, natural breaks in the forest, to kind of steer the ground fire toward these breaks so that they hit a natural barrier and won’t spread any further,” Hajna said.
The goal is to have controlled burns on 10,000 to 20,000 acres of grasses and woodlands by April.