USA — Smoke from a nearly 2,000-acre forest fire in the Wharton State Forest wreaked havoc Friday, prompting the closing of some schools and businesses in Camden County and parts of Burlington and Atlantic counties.
Today, relief from the smoke may come as rain is expected to continue throughout the day.
“It should help with the fire,” said Valerie Meola, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
But for a few hours Friday, visibility was less than one-eighth of a mile in places and U.S. Route 206 in Shamong, Burlington County, and Route 30 in Camden County were closed until noon.
The forest fire, which has been burning since Tuesday in the Atsion section of Shamong, Burlington County, is 70 percent contained, authorities said.
“What we have is a huge bubble of smoke caused by an inversion,” said Bert Plante, division firewarden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “It causes the smoke from the fire to go up and settle back down on the ground.”
The smoke caused the closure of all schools in Hammonton, Atlantic County, and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission inspection station in Winslow.
“Visibility was next to nothing,” said Linda Gilmore, spokeswoman for Atlantic County.
Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton remained on alert Friday as the smoke permeated the air.
“The safety of patients and staff was of the utmost importance,” said Sharon Rosetti, administrator of Kessler. “We had an industrial hygienist check the air quality at Kessler Hospital and it was immediately determined that the air quality was within normal limits.”
Cooper University Hospital in Camden treated some patients who were affected by the smoke.
“We had a couple of asthmatics who were treated and released,” said Lori Shaffer, Cooper spokeswoman. “We have had no continued issues (with the smoke).”
In a press release, the Camden County Department of Health said that “because of fires in Wharton State Forest, residents and school officials should be aware respiratory health complications may develop if exposed to heavy smoke.
Physical activity may cause increased pulmonary stress and negative health effects. Those individuals who have existing respiratory health issues should restrict their activity until the smoke and particulate problem is eliminated.”
Smoke was reported throughout the area from Gloucester County to Burlington County and even in Philadelphia. By the afternoon, most of it had dissipated.
“The fire’s not going anywhere, but the smoke is a problem,” said Plante, the division fire warden.
The inversion is caused when the warmer air creates a “lid” and keeps the smoke on the ground, he said.
“It’s like a lid on a pot,” Plante explained. “It’s really common in the evening, but as the sun comes up and heats up the area, the smoke will break through the inversion.”
Officials were not expecting another inversion this morning, but stated there is a possibility the wind could blow the smoke around, especially near the Atco section of Waterford and Winslow townships.
“There may be closures (Saturday),” Plante said. “Police will be monitoring and closing roads as needed, but there are no closures planned at this time.”
The Atlantic County Office of Emergency Preparedness and Burlington County Health Department released local advisory for residents to remain aware of the smoke conditions.
“They should stay inside,” said Dave Wyche, spokesman for Burlington County. “People with respiratory disorders or issues should consider relocating if it’s affecting them.”