State Forest Fire Services prepares for wildfire season with prescribed burns

The intentionally set fires burn off needles, leaves and brush, leaving more room for firefighters to navigate.

Jim Murdoch

Mar 13, 2024, 9:34 PM

Updated 40 days ago

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How prepared are you if your family is threatened by wildfires? The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is right now intentionally setting fires to keep those threats as low as possible.
“You get used to it. You live out in the woods, this is what you deal with. Prepare the best you can, but it is what it is,” said 63-year-old Everett Champion, who lived his entire life in the Pinelands.
He remembers the big fires, like the one in 1995 and most recently the April 2023 fire that threatened dozens of homes in Manchester and Lakehurst. He knows seeing smoke this time of year is a good thing because it means the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service is out intentionally setting fires to keep folks like him safe.
“The fire commission, they stay pretty good with all the controlled burns and everything. Seems to be quite late this year, but I know it’s been wet, and it makes it hard for them,” Champion said.
“I say that every time we put prescribed fire on the ground and where’s there a wildfire that comes through - it helps us protect lives and property,” said Jeremy Webber, a division fire warden for the NJFFS.
The intentionally set fires burn off needles, leaves and brush, leaving more room for firefighters to navigate if – and when – a wildfire erupts over the area. Crews responded to more than 1,000 fires in 2023, which saw 18,000 acres burned.
“The increasing dry conditions lend themselves more to spread, particularly in South Jersey where predrought and drought conditions take hold a lot sooner,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
It’s a risk people like Champion are willing to take – because these pinelands – are his home.
“We grew up with it and it’s a good thing they do it,” he says.
For more information on how at-risk you are and how you can better protect your property, click here.


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