N.J. officials pledge additional $3M to fight wildfires
Additional funds will also be provided to the state’s Forest Fire Service for contract air support
By Jackie Roman
TRENTON, N.J. — An additional $3 million in funding will be provided to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Forest Fire Service to aid in fighting wildfires, officials announced Thursday.
The importance of additional funding for new equipment and staff “cannot be understated” as climate change continues to worsen and prolong wildfire seasons in New Jersey, state Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette said in a press release.
“In addition to protecting lives and property, our Forest Fire Service assists with natural disasters, maintains hundreds of miles of roads, works alongside multiple cooperators to develop and implement strategic plans that reduce the risk of future wildfires, and lends their talents to other states when wildfires strike,” said LaTourette.
Additional funds will also be made available to expand the Forest Fire Service’s contracted air support during peak spring fire season and to help fund full-time employees to fill vacancies, state officials said.
“This year we saw the challenges the Forest Fire Service can face with a prolonged wildfire season and multiple significant wildfires burning simultaneously in the Pinelands and elsewhere throughout the state,” said John Cecil, assistant commissioner for State Parks, Forests and Historic Sites.
“It is imperative that we provide our brave wildland firefighters the best resources possible to do their jobs safely while they protect lives and property,” Cecil said.
Also on Thursday, the Forest Fire Service presented awards to six individuals and agencies that have assisted during New Jersey’s most active wildfire season in more than a decade. Among the award recipients were Whiting Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 in Manchester Township and West Milford Fire Companies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Every year, about 1,500 wildfires damage or destroy 7,000 acres of the state’s forests, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
But, this year has been especially active.
Wildfire season in New Jersey typically peaks toward the end of April and winds down around May. But, a combination of environmental factors, including how climate change has created drier conditions and less overall rain, has led to fires starting as early as February and March and stretching into June and July.
Major wildfires continued to flare through this summer.
In late August, a wildfire at Wharton State Forest in Camden County burned 1,778 acres before it was contained. Most recently, there was a large wildfire near the Ocean County Airport that burned more than 800 acres during Labor Day weekend. Both fires were in the wildfire-prone Pinelands region.
To date, the Forest Fire Service has responded to 1,034 wildfires which have burned 17,979 acres in New Jersey, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Fourteen of the fires were considered to be major wildfires burning in excess of 100 acres, making 2023 the busiest fire season in more than a decade.
Among the most significant of the fires was the fast-moving Allen Road Wildfire in Bass River Township, Burlington County, which burned 5,474 acres, forced the evacuation of a campground and the closure of a portion of the Garden State Parkway.
In New Jersey, 99% of wildfires are caused by people, through accidents, carelessness and arson, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The remainder are caused by lightning strikes.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Steven Rodas contributed to this report.