Prescribed burns send smoke billowing over NJ

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It's that time of year, when smoke starts billowing over forests in New Jersey. (WPVI)

It's that time of year, when smoke starts billowing over forests of New Jersey.

Chances are, it's from so-called prescribed burns, which are fires purposely set by firefighters to help decrease damage if a wildfire were to ignite.

"By burning these fires by the way we're doing, we're reducing the fuel load that's in the forest," said Asst. Division Warden Shawn Judy.

The leaves, branches, pine needles and other debris sitting on the forest floor are fuel for a wildfire.

"It's equivalent to like gasoline on the ground. As you see now, it's been dry for about a 10 day period with very low humidity, high winds, which dries this material out," said Section Fire Warden Sam Moore.

South Jersey's Pinelands are extremely susceptible to wildfires due to the types of trees and shrubs here. So while it may seem unorthodox, it makes sense to fight fire with fire.

"It does seem a little destructive, but the disturbance caused by the fire is actually very important for these species," said Tim Morris of the NJ Conservation Foundation.

In fact, the forest needs the fire to regenerate itself.

"The fire produces heat, cleans the forest floor, creates a nice seed bed, sort of like a garden. The cones open, release the seeds, wind blows the seeds around, a new forest starts,' said Asst. Chief Fire Warden Greg McLaughlin.

Wildfire season typically begins in late March and lasts through mid-spring. That's why the fire service wants to strategically burn debris before that time arrives.

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