USA — A fire burning in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey has charred 1,800 remote acres of the Wharton State Forest, but fire officials have scaled back immediate concerns that the wind-whipped flames would spread to more populated areas.
Tonight, Stephen Maurer, assistant fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, estimated the fire was about 40 percent contained and he said he did not expect either its size or containment would change much before Thursday morning.
A view of the fire burning through Wharton State Forest in southern New Jersey. Photo: Curt Hudson/The Associated PressResidents who were evacuated earlier today from four homes and two businesses in Hammonton, Atlantic County, were allowed to return in the afternoon as flames appeared not to be spreading, Maurer said.
Additionally, state officials reopened a portion of Route 206 in Hammonton. The roadway remains closed between Atsion and Chew roads, Maurer said.
“The fire activity has decreased substantially. Most of the fire has been burning on the ground because it’s been so dry,” Maurer said.
“It seems to have settled down quite a bit even though it was pretty windy today,” he said tonight, attributing that to the higher humidity.
“There are going to be between 50 to 70 men and about 15 trucks out there tonight doing what they can to contain the fire lines,” Mauer said.
With no rain in the forecast until Saturday, he did not expect the fire to be doused any time soon.
“If we don’t get any rain or not enough, this’ll burn for weeks,” he said.
This morning, fire officials estimated 1,200 acres had burned, but Maurer attributed the additional 600 charred acres to a better mapping of the area by aerial observation teams.
“There was so much smoke, they didn’t know how much had burned,” he said.
Today’s northerly winds weren’t strong enough to warrant fears of a quick spreading fire, but they had enough force to give firefighters on the ground some assistance, Maurer said.
“The wind is helping dissipate the smoke so they can see what they’re doing and helping the guys on the ground breathe a little better,” he said.
The blaze began Tuesday afternoon in Camden County and spread to Burlington and Atlantic counties, according to Bert Plante, a division fire warden with the fire service.
Firefighters tried to stop it from crossing Route 206, but the blaze jumped the highway Tuesday night, Plante said.