TRENTON — The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and state forestry service are telling the public that 2022 is the year to be better prepared for wildfires, as they pose an increased risk due to climate change.
Wildfire season in the state begins in mid-March. The season peaks in April before receding in May, DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said.
New Jersey is always at risk for wildfire because of its densely wooded areas, but officials are starting to see climate change alter how wildfires spread and where they occur, making it harder for firefighters to control them quickly.
“I think we can easily look past the fact that 40% of the state is forested,” LaTourette said.
Last year, 946 recorded New Jersey wildfires covered more than 1,900 acres, and 88 have already been recorded within the first two months of 2022, consuming 67 acres, state Fire Warden Greg McLaughlin said.
Most of this year’s fires have been small, McLaughlin said, but reinforced the department’s urge for the public to be prepared for large-scare blazes that could devastate homes.
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The DEP will employ social media and the internet to protect public safety and publicize prescribed burns.
New this year is a Twitter account, @njdepforestfire, used specifically by the DEP for wildfire info. The agency hopes the public and media will use the account to become better informed and prepare for wildfire threats, LaTourette said.
New Jersey typically experiences westward winds, which can spread flames more easily, McLaughlin said, using recent wildfires that have crossed the Garden State Parkway as examples.
In March 2021, a wild blaze swarmed four lanes of the parkway, restricting traffic and causing major damage to nearly 30 homes in Lakewood and Brick in Ocean County, McLaughlin said.
Then in May, another blaze trekked its way through the coastal areas of Little Egg Harbor Township.
“We were lucky to hold that at Route 9 before it was going to go into other areas on the east side and in those coastal areas,” McLaughlin said.
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McLaughlin said fighting coastal wildfires can be difficult because winds can change quickly, especially if a sea breeze changes the fire’s direction.
But the DEP is continuing, through new technology, to learn more about how a wildfire spreads to be more ahead of them.
“We’re getting a much better understanding of how embers travel, how far they can travel and how they act to ignite new fires,” McLaughlin said. “We’re learning that these embers can travel up to and beyond a mile and start new fires.”
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