Shortly after firefighting crews gained control over four blazes burning in central and southern New Jersey, a new fire broke out Friday.
A forest fire was reported around 11 a.m. in Wharton State Forest in Shamong Township, Burlington County. It burned 50 acres within a half hour, and was expected to char at least 200 acres before being contained, said Russ Fenton, acting assistant division warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. No buildings are nearby, Fenton said.
No injuries and only minor property damage had been reported from a quartet of fires that broke out on Thursday, fanned by strong gusty winds. But by Friday morning, those winds had died down considerably, and a steady rain forecast for late Friday into Saturday was expected to drastically shrink the fires if not extinguish them completely.
"That's what we're waiting for," said Fenton.
A blaze in Berkeley Township that burned more than 300 acres and forced hundreds of evacuations was fully contained Friday morning, said Greg McLaughlin, the fire service's division warden. Residents were allowed to return to their homes late Thursday.
"We had some good, successful containment operations overnight, with lower temperatures, and we're feeling pretty good about all these fires," he said.
Crews flew over the main Berkeley fire Friday morning to look for hot spots and areas of unburned fuel that needed to be addressed.
A smaller fire in a different part of Berkeley had burned 220 acres and was 40 percent contained as of Friday.
A fire that burned more than 1,500 acres in Downe Township in Cumberland County, at the far southern end of the state, was declared under control Friday morning. That fire, in the Bevans Wildlife Management Area, was far from homes or other buildings.
And a blaze that burned 569 acres in Franklin Township in Gloucester County was 50 percent contained.
Several smaller brush fires also broke out around the state on Thursday, fed by the high winds but did not approach the size of the four largest ones.
Winds were sustained at 20 to 25 mph, with gusts of 35 to 40 mph on Thursday. Combined with dry conditions in much of the state, the winds led state officials to ban outdoor fires Thursday.
Dozens of firefighters battled the blazes on the ground. Bulldozers built walls to stop the spread of flames and several helicopters and firefighting planes dropped water on the fires.
There was no initial indication of what touched off any of the blazes.