By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY — A massive wildfire, named Jimmy’s Waterhole fire, covering 3,800 acres of land, fiercely moved through Manchester Township, New Jersey, overnight on April 12, leading to road closures and evacuations. According to fire officials, there are no reported deaths, injuries, or damaged structures.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but humans seemingly caused it, as the majority of wildfires are, whether that be accidental or intentional.
“Ninety-nine percent of wildfires in New Jersey are caused by humans through accidents, carelessness, negligence, and even arson,” said Greg McLaughlin, Administrator and Chief of the Forest Fire Service. “The Forest Fire Service works diligently with local communities to educate residents how to keep their homes ‘Firewise’ in areas with high wildfire risk.”
Evacuations spread through 170 structures, and an additional 75 were threatened. Route 539 and 70 periodically shut down, which impacted individuals who drove from Philadelphia East to the coast.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for all South Jersey counties for wildfires due to dry conditions and high winds.
The blaze in Manchester Township began on Tuesday night and, within an hour, burned through 500 acres by the time the New Jersey Forest Fire Service sent out an alert to the public. Chief Greg McLaughlin of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said the department had taken “quick action” that prevented the fire from spreading further and kept the blaze from its potential of being catastrophic.
On Wednesday afternoon, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said the fire was 50 percent contained, 20 structures were still threatened, and all evacuation orders were lifted. By Wednesday night, the fire was 75 percent contained.
With warmer temperatures looming over the east coast, Wednesday’s steamy weather was unfavorable for firefighters working to control the outbreak. Wednesday’s weather made the fire almost worse than its beginning Tuesday night.
April is notoriously a dry and hot month that marks the peak of the wildfire season in New Jersey, with about 7,000 acres of land destroyed each year by an average of 1,500 wildfires. The heightened risk of wildfires occurs primarily due to trees and bushes not having fully grown leaves, which leads to more sun reaching the forest floor and increasingly dry fallen leaves and pine needles, which act as kindling for wildfire growth.
In Washington Township, Burlington County, a forest fire near Bass River State Park is, as of Tuesday evening, April 18, 257 acres in size and 65% contained.
“The continuing impacts of climate change mean our state is experiencing more severe weather conditions, storms, wind and drought that can result in a longer wildfire season, which is why it is more important than ever that the public exercise caution and take steps to help protect their homes and property,” Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette said.
Most of the state’s sections are at high risk for fires. With rising temperatures in the Western United States, increasingly intense, common, and long-lasting wildfires have and will continue to occur.
Since January 1, 2023, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service has responded to 315 wildfires. The Forest Fire Service is currently conducting prescribed burns statewide to reduce the intensity of wildfires, protect property, and improve native habitats for plants and animals. Prescribed burns are intentional fires curated by fire teams for forest management and are used to reduce the number of wildfire hazards.
Despite the Forest Fire Service working to reduce wildfires, there are actions the ordinary individual can do to help reduce wildfire risk. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, these include:
- Avoid discarding cigarettes, or any smoking material, on the ground
- Contact your nearest Forest Fire Service office for information on how to obtain a Campfire Permit
- Do not leave your fire unattended and douse them in water completely
- Keep matches and lighter equipment away from children
- Protect your home and other structures from wildfires by creating a defensible space
- Ensure fire trucks can easily access driveways
- Report suspicious vehicles and individuals to authorities
- Use wood stoves and fireplaces carefully and entirely douse ashes with water before disposal
“The Forest Fire Service encourages New Jerseyans to stay informed about wildfire risk and weather conditions that may contribute to the spread of a wildfire,” said John Cecil, Assistant Commissioner for State Parks, Forest & Historic Sites. “Everyone can do their part to help the Forest Fire Service protect life, property, and natural resources.”
To learn more about wildfires in New Jersey and the United States and why they are happening, visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/fire/.
To learn what can be done to prevent wildfires, visit https://www.doi.gov/blog/10-tips-prevent-wildfires.
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