Forest fire spreads to 1500 acres in Cumblerland County during Red Flag Warning

DOWNE TOWNSHIP, N.J. - April 24, 2014

As of Thursday morning, officials said about 1500 acres have been consumed in a remote area of the Edward G. Bevan Fish and Wildlife Management Area.

Environmental Protection Department spokesman Larry Hanja told The Press of Atlantic City the fire was 55 percent contained as of 8 a.m. Thursday and was expected to burn itself out.

So far, no structures have been threatened. No injuries have been reported.

The fire began shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday. Fueled by strong winds, it is estimated to consume at least 1,500 acres.

Environmental Protection Department spokesman Larry Hanja tells The Press of Atlantic City ( ) the fire was 55 percent contained as of 8 a.m. Thursday and is expected to burn itself out.

The fire has not threatened any homes and no injuries have been reported.

At least 50 firefighters were battling the blaze, which started before 3:00 p.m. Wednesday as a Red Flag warning went into effect in New Jersey.

Firefighters said the fire apparently began on the north side of Ackley Road in Downe Township and eventually crossed to the south side.

Sam Moore from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service explained, "The Red Flag Warning is very serious. The slightest little spark or ember or any kind of hot source could ignite a catastrophic wildfire."

Moore, a section warden with the forest fire service, was on patrol Wednesday, one of several 2-man brush trucks roaming through the pinelands on alert during the Red Flag Warning.

Manning the observation tower eight stories above ground in Woodland Township was Ralph Wallen, who is constantly scanning the skies looking for fires.

Wallen told Action News, "You see a little puff of white smoke coming up and then we use this thing and get a compass reading on it."

The wind is fierce up on the tower at times making the danger clear. If a fire gets started, the wind will take it and move it like a freight train.

Section Fire Warden Tom Gerber said the wind "just has a ladder-like effect. It'll make these flame heights 50 to 60 feet high flame heights.... The conditions are as bad as they get."

The combination of strong winds, low humidity, and the abundance of dry leaves and branches that carpet the forest floor are what's creating the extreme fire danger. Similar conditions helped fuel a 2,000 acre blaze on April 6 and another in Salem, N.J. last weekend.

Fire officials are urging people to be cautious.

"We are limiting a lot of the agricultural burning and the campfires in campgrounds of state parks. Smokers please use your ashtray," Section Fire Warden Shawn Judy said.

Rosemarie Mason from the Outdoor Club of South Jersey says, "We usually have a big picnic with hamburgers and hotdogs, but because of fire regulations and what's going on with the weather we are going to have sandwiches instead."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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