New Jersey

710 Acres Destroyed as Fire Spreads Through Wharton State Forest in Burlington County

UPDATE: Large Fire in Burlington County's Wharton State Forest 90% Contained

A large fire continues to burn through Wharton State Forest in Burlington County, New Jersey hours after the first flames began to flicker early Thursday afternoon.

The fire consumed 710 acres -- more than one square mile of forest -- and as of Thursday evening the blaze remained only 50-percent contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said. Firefighters were making progress, though, and hoped to have it fully contained by Friday morning.

The fire began around 2:30 p.m. in an area behind the Atison Ranger Station near Route 206 and Quakerbridge Road in Shamong, officials told NBC10.

"We have a good idea of where it started, we had a good person that actually, as our fire towers were picking up the smoke, got 911 reports from some hikers in the area," Forest Fire Service Incident Commander Tom Gerber said.

Thick smoke billowing through the area could be seen for miles and affected drivers on Route 206. A section of the road was closed for several hours Thursday afternoon. New Jersey State Troopers considered ordering evacuations for homes and businesses in the area, but firefighting efforts spared that from happening.

Gerber said parts of the park haven't burnt in 80 years and that flames were spreading in hard to reach areas.

"It's very inaccessible to motorized equipment. We have to do a lot of stuff on foot," he said.

Water rained down from above the fire from firefighting planes and helicopters trying to stem the fire's spread. Firefighters were also lighting backfires to prevent to main blaze from spreading.

A dozen firefighters will continue to fight the blaze overnight moving toward full containment, Gerber said.

Late Thursday, winds pushed smoke towards Bucks County, Pennsylvania. County dispatchers said they fielded about 50 calls from concerned citizens reporting smelling smoke.

Officials could not yet say how the fire began, but believe people sparked it. They are investigating whether it was intentional.

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