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.
“Prescribed burning is an important tool in keeping our forests and other wildlands safe and healthy,” said Bill Edwards, Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “These burns are conducted only under exacting conditions by highly trained personnel. By burning them away now, we can reduce the risk of these materials serving as tinder for wildfires later in the year. This practice also improves the overall ecological health of our forests and grasslands.”
Prescribed fires 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.
“Prescribed burning has been a successful wildland fire mitigation tool used by the Forest Fire Service since the 1920s, protecting property, lives and infrastructure by creating defensible space around developed areas and strategic fire breaks that help the Forest Fire Service quickly contain wildfires,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources.
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 10,000 and 20,000 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 2016, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service responded to 1,065 wildfires. 75 percent of the fires were a quarter-acre or smaller. The largest was a 464-acre fire in Bass River 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.