Crews fighting 1,000-acre inferno at Wharton State Forest

UPDATE: At about 4 p.m. Friday, officials said the fire that has burned about 1,000 acres at Wharton State Forest, New Jersey’s largest state forest, is now 70 percent contained, but efforts to extinguish the blaze will continue through the night.

 

Fifty firefighters and 13 trucks were sent in to battle a blaze that has burned about 1,000 acres so far at Wharton State Forest, New Jersey’s largest state forest, covering parts of Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties.

Firefighters established a 3,500 acre containment zone, closing one trail and several back roads in the 122,880 acre forest. The seat of the fire is northeast of Batsto Village, an unincorporated area in Burlington County’s Washington Township.

Officials urged people to avoid the area on Friday, as crews continued to battle the fire, which has already eclipsed the total area engulfed by flames all of last year.

Firefighters from the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service and several local communities are battling the fire, a challenging task as temperatures are expected to climb into the mid-90s this afternoon.

Because of the types of trees and shrubs it supports, the sprawling Pinelands region of southern New Jersey is particularly susceptible to wildfires.

In 2016, the Forest Fire Service responded to 1,065 wildfires, 75 percent of which were a quarter-acre or smaller. The largest outbreak last year was a 464-acre fire in Bass River State Forest in Burlington County.

“It’s hot, which makes fire fighting difficult,” New Jersey State Forest Fire spokesman Robert Geist said. “On the plus side, the humidity is hampering the ability of the fire to spread and we don’t have a whole lot of wind.”

Geist said officials plan to take an aerial survey Friday morning to assess blaze, launching a helicopter from Coyle Field in Barnegat Township.

The state has nine Grumman Ag-Cat drop planes capable of delivering 300 gallons of water each, along with two Bell 206 Jet Rangers, two Bell 205 Hueys, one Bell 47 helicopter and two fixed wing observation aircraft. Officials did not indicate how many of those craft were engaged in the effort to suppress the Wharton State Forest fire.

As the forest fire sent flames shooting in the air, Chopper 6 captured video of the blaze consuming trees in the Washington Township section of Wharton State Forest.

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The blaze was spotted by the Batsto Fire Tower shortly before 1:30 p.m. Thursday and authorities reported having about 30 percent contained by 10 p.m. No one has been hurt and no property has been damaged.

People reported seeing and smelling smoke from miles away. The Philadelphia ABC News affiliate also broadcast video of the forest fire.

Batsto Village, a former bog iron and glassmaking industrial center from 1766 to 1867 that currently reflects the agricultural and commercial enterprises that existed here during the late 19th century.

Throughout Wharton State Forest are rivers and streams for canoeing, hiking trails (including a major section of the Batona Trail), miles of unpaved roads for mountain biking and horseback riding and numerous lakes, ponds and fields ideal for wildlife observation.

Bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, marsh hawks, ospreys, great blue herons, swans, screech owls, great-horned owls, bluebirds, hummingbirds, purple martins, goldfinch, turkeys, beavers, river otters, fox and deer are only some of the wildlife the alert visitor can see.

An excessive heat warning is in effect until 8 p.m. Friday for Camden, northwestern Burlington, Gloucester and Mercer. A heat advisory is in effect until 6 p.m. Friday for eastern Bergen, eastern and western Essex, eastern Passaic, Hudson and western and eastern Union.

An air quality alert is also in place for most of the state.


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