25 March 2010

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USA —   Over the last several months, controlled burns have been taking place in heavily wooded areas across the state, under the close watch of the state Forest Fire Service. Today in the Atlantic County Park, several acres were burned, but not nearly the amount they were planning for.

It starts with a single match and minutes later, fire is running across this open field in the Atlantic County Park. “Anytime we can burn an area, it’s gonna lessen the chance of a wildfire,” said Kenneth Badger, Jr., with the NJ State Forest Fire Service.

That’s why members with the Forest Fire Service return to the park around this time every year, armed with torches dripping with fire. By reducing “fuels” like dry leaves or pine needles, officials say they’re reducing the danger of a bigger fire ripping through the area in the upcoming dry months. “These areas with the Indian Grass, if we mow them they just become more of a fire hazard,” said Clayton Ingersoll, the Senior Manager of the park, “this way, the hazard’s eliminated and the areas green up for the wildlife.”

While it’s something that’s done annually, officials say this year has been particularly difficult, thanks to Mother Nature. With flooding still a problem in many areas, officials say they haven’t be able to burn nearly as much as they had planned. “In my area, I had approximately 1,000 acres planned to control burn,” said Badger, “and we’ve got approximately 70 acres of that done just due to the wetness and the snow we had this winter.”

In the park, they normally target 30-40 acres they consider high priority. “This year, we’re looking at 4-6,” said Ingersoll.

All this wet weather is also causing other problems, like making it hard for the heavy trucks to get around on the super saturated ground. And, while some may think all of the rain might help prevent wild fires, the fire that broke out over the weekend in Ocean County proves anything is possible. “Case in point, approximately five days prior to that fire, there was a significant rain,” said Badger, “and you know that was a 500 acre fire. New Jersey’s unique and it doesn’t take much to dry out and burn.”

And for those areas they weren’t able to hit this season? “A lot of the areas we intended to hit, we either hit last year or the year before, so the danger is greatly reduced,” said Ingersoll, “and they’ll be on the top of the list come next year.”

Officials say you should clear leaves and pine needle and other brush away from your home, also be sure to clean out your gutters, as a way to protect your property from wild fire. A controlled burn is something you should never do on your own, besides it being illegal for residents, it’s also extremely dangerous if not done correctly.

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