“Suspicious” NJ Fires Scorch Preserved Land

Two wildfires that authorities say are suspicious burned 400 acres of land in one of the largest preserved land areas of South Jersey

Two fires that scorched about 400 acres inside the Winslow Wildlife Management Area in South Jersey on Friday are being called "suspicious" by authorities.

No homes or businesses were threatened. But smoke was visible as far away as Atlantic City, 30 miles to the east, and Trenton, 34 miles to the north.

One fire covered about 375 acres in Winslow Township. That one was closest to the A.C. Expressway. The smaller fire was near Piney Hollow Road and spread across 25 or so acres earlier in the day. Both were under control by the middle of the afternoon.

Fire officials told NBC40 that they believe the fires are suspicious because there has not been any lightning and there was more than one fire.

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That Winslow Wildlife Management area in Winslow Township is the second largest contiguous piece of preserved land in Camden County. The state's website describes it as:

Miles of sandy roads, trails and pull-offs traverse 7,615 acres of mixed hardwoods, upland forest, grassy fields, swamp areas and a section of the Great Egg Harbor River. With such a wide array of habitats, patient and frequent visitors can be rewarded with a well-rounded wildlife-viewing experience in any season.

NBC10 Meteorologist Dave Warren said weather conditions had created a high fire warning for most of the viewing area. That was due to three things: windy conditions, a lack of rain and low relative humidity.

On the state's Forest Fire Service website on Friday, the fire danger for all of Central and South Jersey were at the "Very High" stage, which is the second highest level of alert.  "Extreme" conditions are the most dangerous.

Recently, the Forest Fire Service set a number of controlled burns to try to reduce the risk of an out-of-control wildfire.

A fire Thursday in Lacey Township burned six acres of marshland and a half-acre of forest, briefly threatening some homes.

The fires came just days after the state issued forest fire danger alerts and restricted campfires in many places.

"It is paramount that New Jersey residents and visitors exercise extreme caution to prevent wildfires at this particularly vulnerable time, with little rain and low humidity,'' said Michael Drake, acting chief of the fire service.

As of Wednesday, the most recent date for which statistics were available, the Forest Fire Service had responded to 359 wildfires that burned a total of 286 acres, compared with 190 fires that burned 186 acres during the same period last year.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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