New Jersey at high risk of brush fires

March 27, 2012 2:59:27 PM PDT
The weather has created dangerous conditions in New Jersey, with strong winds and low humidity creating a risk of brush fires throughout the state.

The NJ Forest Fire Service is taking the Red Flag warning very seriously, bringing on extra personnel to watch for fires and respond should one break out.

Fire observer Ralph Wallen is manning the 85 foot tower at Brendan Byrne State Forest in Woodland Twp. - his eyes peeled for any sign of smoke or fire.

"The way the weather conditions are, whether it's hazy out or clear out, the color of smoke sometimes that can all blend so you really have to pay attention," Wallen said.

The Red Flag warning was issued again on Tuesday in South Jersey by the National Weather Service because conditions exist for what forecasters call explosive fire growth if a blaze gets started.

"Even a small fire with conditions this dry and also this windy and the humidity being so low, it's almost like a perfect storm," said Assistant Division Warden John Reith.

On Monday, the Forest Fire Service responded to a multi-acre fire in Winslow. It's believed high winds knocked down a power line sparking a fire near some homes at North Central and Russell. Firefighters contained the blaze and brought in heavy equipment to dig out a firebreak.

Adding to the danger right now is the thick layer of leaves, twigs and other debris covering the ground. This is what fuels a fire and, right now, the South Jersey Pinelands are a tinderbox.

"Having the debris, the leaves and stuff like that it's like having an inch of gasoline on the forest floor. That's how fast it burns," said section warden John Earlin.

Firefighters call it "ladder fuel" because it starts on the ground and travels up to the treetops.

Every day it goes by with these nice conditions that we have today - it's just adding more potential to our concerns," said Reith.

Officials say a long soaking rain would help lessen the fire danger, but that's not in the immediate forecast.