A lack of humidity, warming temperatures, and high winds make the spring months peak wildfire season in New Jersey and 2019 has been a busy year already for woodland fires.
State environmental officials are urging residents and visitors to be careful with fire, as even small fires can grow into raging blazes under certain conditions.
“Enjoy the outdoors. Enjoy our state parks, our forests, our wildlife management areas. But be careful with fire,” said Forest Fire Service Fire Warden Greg McLaughlin. “Ninety-nine percent of all fires are caused by people.”
In preparation for wildfire season, the Forest Fire Service conducted a series of controlled burns from January to March. Officials torched 22,616 acres of forest this year to eliminate fuel that could make a future fire worse.
Still, New Jersey firefighters have battled 331 forest fires this year alone, an increase over the same period last year, which had more rain.
Although many were small, one exception was the Spring Hill Wildfire, which burned more than 11,000 acres in the Pinelands in late March and was brought under control by April 1.
State environmental officials have not yet said whether they know what caused the fire, but they confirmed that the two men in a photo released by the New Jersey State Police are not suspects.
According to Shawn Judy, an assistant fire warden in the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, the two men spoke with investigators about what they saw.
“We wanted to get a hold of those folks and find out what they knew. They helped us with a timeline and narrowed a few things down for us and answered a few questions for us,” Judy said. “They were simply two people that were in a photograph that was taken before our units actually arrived on scene.”
Authorities said the investigation is ongoing.