(Jackson Township, NJ)(July 10, 2020)--Yesterday a forest fire started in Jackson Township in Ocean County. The fire has already burned at least 204 acres through the Colliers Mill Wildlife Management Area outside of Cassville. No roads have been closed, and the Department of Environmental Protection has reported that containment is at 80 percent. They expect incoming Tropical Storm Fay to finish the job.
“This forest fire in the pines of Ocean County is another example of the impacts of climate change. Thankfully, the fire is in a remote area so no one has been injured and no structures have been damaged. It is also lucky that this fire broke out right before Tropical Storm Fay, so it should be fully extinguished soon. However, forest fire seasons are getting longer and worse. If it wasn’t for the storm, this fire could have spread more than a couple hundred acres,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The state and Forest Service have identified the high- risk areas for forest fires however we keep building in and around these areas. If we want to protect people from fires, we need to stop development and keep people away from areas more likely to burn.”
The Pinelands have already seen forest fires this year. On May 19th, a large brush fire started in Winslow Township in Camden County. The Big Timber Fire was expected to burn 2,100 acres. On May 17th in Manchester, a 99-acre brush fire was extinguished near Harry Wright Boulevard.
“The Pinelands have already seen multiple forest fires this year. The Pines are an ecosystem that is particularly susceptible to wildfires. Forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem and can happen all of the time. In order to prevent serious wildfires, the state must prevent any unnecessary development in the Pinelands that would put people in harm’s way. There are thousands of people who live in the Pinelands that are potentially at risk if there is a major fire,” said Tittel. “These fires may be naturally occurring, but the larger fires in the Pines are becoming worse and more frequent. This is because of climate change and over-pumping of aquifers leading to drier and more dangerous conditions.”
A 2016 article in Rolling Stone warned that America’s worst forest fire could happen in New Jersey. The environmental conditions and location of the Pinelands, ongoing development and pipelines all play a role in that threat. DEP recently suspended permits for NJ Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline, suspending horizontal direction drilling (HDD) for the project.
“The Pinelands are surrounded by development, creating the prospect of a catastrophic fire as outlined in a Rolling Stone article in 2016 that said we could suffer the nation’s worst forest fire. That article laid out a worst-case scenario, a wind-blown blaze in dry conditions quickly cutting through the region. That scenario becomes more likely if we continue to over-pump the aquifers, dry out our wetlands and forests and put more people in harm’s way with more pipelines like the SRL. This fire burned through 200 acres of forest. If there had been a gas pipeline going through there, the results could have been catastrophic,” said Tittel. “It’s like playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun; it’s only a matter of time one of these forest fires turns into a true disaster.”
Last year, a bonfire that ignited an out-of-control blaze destroyed over 11,000 acres of New Jersey’s Pinelands. The fire burned in Penn State Forest in Woodland Township and one of the largest forest fires New Jersey has seen in recent years.
“The Pinelands is the country’s first National Reserve and holds 17 trillion gallons of water in its aquifer. There is nothing like it in the world. These past forest fires in New Jersey should be a wake up call for the state, especially the Pinelands Commission. New Jersey needs a better plan with the constant threat of fire in the Pinelands. The Pinelands Commission is not doing enough. They need to make sure that this critical area is protected from climate change and move forward on preventing harmful fires in the future. The Pinelands has a Master Plan and the commission needs to include high risk fire areas in that plan to prevent development in the area or adjacent to them. This will help protect people from fires that are naturally occurring,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.