South Jersey forest fire nearly contained

 A wildfire burned in Burlington County, New Jersey. (Image via NBC10)

A wildfire burned in Burlington County, New Jersey. (Image via NBC10)

A South Jersey forest fire that led some Burlington County residents to evacuate their homes Thursday was about 75 percent contained Friday morning.

Officials estimate the fire affected about 700 acres of the 120,000-acre Wharton State Forest, one of the largest parks in the state. Despite large plumes of smoke, the fire did no damage to homes or the nearby Route 206 highway.

Though the area of the fire was greater than usual, New Jersey State Forester Lynn Fleming said the burn wasn’t anything atypical of the Garden State’s regular fire season, which extends from early April to late May.

In fact, Fleming said, the Wharton State Forest is in some ways an ecosystem that depends on fire for new growth.

“In the Pine Barrens, fire has always helped to regenerate and regrow and establish new plants to come back,” said Fleming. “All fire isn’t bad. In this case, it can be a good thing but we try and control it so it doesn’t affect our public.”

“Seven hundred acres sounds like a lot, but if you go back next year you’ll see a lot of new growth coming back,” Fleming added.

Fleming said a wet spring actually kept her department from performing some controlled burns. Because of its sandy soil, high winds and warm weather can dry out the Pine Barrens within a day.

“We could have rain today, and within a day or even less, with high winds and high temperature, we could have a fire kick up very quickly,” said Fleming.

She said fires like this, while still dangerous, can mimic the outcome of her department’s prescribed burn, further building up a fire barrier.

The cause of the Wharton fire is still under investigation.

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