The Fish Story

Route 72 Is Dangerous Failure as Fireline; Tinted Windowers Sidestep Distraction Citations

By JAY MANN | Apr 09, 2019

HELLFIRE TO PAY: Every wildfire tells a story. The recent Spring Ridge Wildfire was particularly telling in a firefighting vein. It disturbingly proved Route 72 is not the firefighting aid it had been for decades. For some reason, the NJ Department of Transportation has slacked off maintaining an adequate wildfire “no fuel” buffer zone on both sides of the much-traveled roadway. Flash fuel, in the form of grasses and pine needles, was there for fire’s taking. The unkemptness of the roadsides might have to do with keeping up the natural look of the surrounding Pinelands National Reserve.

The most defined pygmy pine plains in the nation are adjacent to the Route 72 corridor. These plains literally live for wildfires, hotly embracing the blackening heat to launch seeds. However, humanity isn’t as hot on uncontrolled 50-foot flames enlivening that unique ecology.

The Forest Fire Service had long perceived Route 72 as a manmade firebreak – a veritable line in the sand when forced to do battle with Pinelands wildfires. No longer.

During the Spring Hill conflagration, the compromised fire-stopping capacity of Route 72 invited northbound flames to jump the roadway. These so-called slop overs happened at so many places that Forest Fire Service personnel assigned to head off the fire’s run became frustrated … and exhausted. Only amazingly dangerous interception drives by firefighters – making headlong forays along the blazing roadway – kept the wildfire from running toward numerous housing developments, including senior communities. Firefighter lives were seriously risked.

The NJDOT – and the state, by extension – will surely be getting an earful over allowing the grow-out of vegetation next to Route 72 and other Pinelands highways. In fact, I have it on good authority that demands will be made to not only reestablish fuel-free zones near woodland highways but to expand these defensive buffers, as part of an updated fire management plan. I’m sure this clearing can be done without diminishing one jot from the wild look and feel of the Pine Barrens.

On the burning irony front, a roadside billboard in the burnt-out area encourages citizens to maintain 100 feet of defense around their homes. Do as we say, not as we do.

For some graphic looks at the burned-out plains, check out jaymanntoday.ning.com. Go to “Friday April 5, 2019. Initial walkabout in burnout zone ... many causalities.”

DEFEND YOUR SPACE: Should wildfires come knockin,’ you should already be blockin.’ OK, that sounds dumb, but wildfire readiness isn’t.

Wildfire deflection begins at home for the many folks living anywhere near forests, timberlands, jungles, woodlands, meadows, glades, dells, Apples – places where surrounding nature can suddenly go up in flames.

Fire deflection comes with a concept known as defensible space. This is a firebreak zone, highlighted by anti-wildfire landscaping. It’s akin to the slogan learn not to burn but based on keeping one’s entire homestead poised not to burn. It entails creating a wide protective stretch void of natural vegetative fuels.

Per the NJ Forest Fire Service, “A minimum fuel break of not less than 30 feet should be established and maintained around all structures by the selective removal or thinning of trees, brush, ground cover and dead plant material.”

But in our heavily wooded parts, a mere “minimum” can prove meaningless when windblown flames are on a run. To keep a surer and safer defensible space, think in terms of maintaining a solid 100-foot-wide low-fuel halo around the old homestead.

This might sound a tad sophomoric, but to get a quick feel for that 100-foot distance, recognize that the average stride of a man is 30 inches; a woman’s is roughly 26 inches. Pace off until your steps add up to 100 feet. You’ll likely be shocked at what a goodly distance of fuel clearing is needed to be truly wildfire ready.

The defensible space concept doesn’t only apply to those living in close contact with large stretches of woodlands. Even small stands of woods or grassy fields can burn wild enough to send sparks flying far and wide, especially when fast-tracking upon the honking winds we often have blowing hereabouts.

As to the vegetative thinning process, this doesn’t mean beloved larger trees must all come down. The trick is to divest a defensible space of weeds, shrubbery, woody plants, or low growing trees –  collectively called brush by firefighters.

According to a state brochure titled “DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? 100’ of Defensible Space” clearing should begin ASAP, for all concerned.

“The threat to life and property from wildfire is a real concern. Studies show that a fast-moving wildfire can destroy a home in only ten minutes. So, take an active role in protecting your home and community from wildfire, and reduce the threat to life and property.”

I can’t speak officially, but I’ll bet the farm that insurance companies are active supporters of way-wide defensive spaces, possibly to the point of routinely checking up on woodsy abodes that they insure. I’ll even play devil’s advocate by hypothetically suggesting there’s a potential insurance claim risk if, heaven forbid, your house goes up in wildfire smoke. The last thing you want is a claims adjuster prolifically taking down notes about burnt vegetation flush to a smoldering foundation. Of course, I’m prolifically paranoid that way.

Just to overcomplicate matters, homes immersed in woodlands should also be aware of the local “fuel hazard” classification. This is a state rating system indicating how ready a region is to, well, ignite. It is based on a region’s trees, brush and such.

As proof of how seriously defensible areas are taken in the wildest wildfire zones, Master Gardeners of UC Santa Clara warn, “Often firefighters will bypass a home that has little to no defensible area in which to work, opting instead for one they think they will be more likely to save.”

Admittedly, NJ’s premier firefighters won’t be tape-measuring the width of defensible space as a wildfire is bearing down, however, it is in the best interest of homeowners to do their parts in fighting the good wildfire fight.

FURTHER WILDFIRE FOLLOW-UP: An untold number of deer burned out of their wooded homelands have quickly returned to examine the remains, albeit in a stunned state. During my walkabouts in what I’m dubbing the “black forest,” I’ve had white tails all but stagger past me. They’re so discombobulated that they pay me little mind. Their million-mile stares tell it all. None of those deer are old enough to have experienced the last fire in that particular stretch of pine plains. I believe it hasn’t burned since the record-breaking, statewide Pinelands conflagration in 1963.

So, why don’t the fire-evicted deer just remain where they fled instead of returning to a forage-lacking burnout zone?

Firstly, the displaced deer get stressfully confused by finding themselves in new surroundings. They experience the crippling angst of being forced out of a lifelong comfort zone. Then, there’s the territoriality angle.

While seemingly mellow mammals, deer life isn’t as laid-back as one might think. Not only will bucks go berserk over territorial interlopers, male or female, but I’ve seen hen fights, during which lady whitetails go at one and other with ferocious, multi-strike hoof smashes. Fire-displaced deer can’t simply step onto a strange stretch of Pinelands and call it their own. Local deer beg to differ.

Obviously, fire-confounded deer will need to make some moves to find forage. With grasses returning quickest to roadside areas, this could place an inordinate number of white tails near – or crossing atop – roadways. With the shore-rush season upon us, keep a doubly wary eye out when motoring to or from the coast. And always keep in mind there’s seldom just one deer crossing the road at a time. It’s the second – or third, or fourth – crosser that gets you.

MANN OVERBOARD: We’re in the midst of an anti-distracted driving blitz, as the state has dished out some decent above-and-beyond dough to spark law officers into targeting any driver who doesn’t have both hands on the wheel or both eyes on the road. And beware, you drivers who impulsively talk using hand gestures, or feel compelled to make eye contact.

Obviously, this blitz is eyeing the more famed bad-driving things, most noticeably texting and other forms of cell phone distractions.

I can highly understand from whence cometh this NJ effort, considering over 3,000 people die annually in the US directly due to distracted driving. Untold numbers go morgue-bound from crashes only suspected of being rooted in driver inattentiveness.

Despite the current crackdown’s righteousness, I have a somewhat related unfairness gripe. It has to do with the evolving deep-tinted window craze. More and more vehicles are going black in the windows … all windows. I’m guessing it’s an end-around effort to thwart the long eyes of the law -- constantly watching for folks cell phoning while steering. Nasty fines and ugly driving points for cell phone violations have led to a fight back, like hiding behind tint.

In reality, there’s no legal reason why sedans, SUVs and trucks are suddenly pushing far past the allowable limits of window tinting. NJ laws haven’t changed: No tinting of the front windshield and front side windows. Backside windows and rear windshields can be shaded.

Returning to my gripe theme, it’s impossible to tell what the drivers behind the deep tint are doing. They’re as much as immune from the distracted driving campaign.

As I imagine it, unseeable motorists get to hide behind a cloak of tintedness to then freely gab on cell phones, text to high heaven, knock down frothy brews, watch small-screen World Federation Wrestling, play air guitar, assume sundry yoga poses, roll fat joints and (ladies) apply makeup while steering with just chest protrusions. Admittedly, when I can’t see inside a vehicle, my imagination take’s the driver’s seat.

It’s legal sots like us, who at least abide by the no-tint law, that get busted, seen by cops at that one lone instant when not paying the utmost attention to the road. That’s no fair! Besides, folks going gonzo on deep and dark tinting seem most inclined to take the distracted-driving route – as we of a see-through window nature get ticketed for merely sipping a Perrier water.

As to the cops, they’re seemingly turning a blind eye to overt window darkening, surely knowing they can nab plenty of distracted, clear-window folks to account for the extra money they’re making.

While I truly have no fear of intrusive police stares, having never been ticketed after 55 years of intense-mileage driving, when I next go truck shopping, I’ll be going phantom, ordering black glass all around. That will allow me to make grotesque faces at cars stopped next to me at red lights. Just my luck I’ll forget I rolled down the window: “No, ma’am. I actually like your new hairstyle. I just, uh, swallowed a bug.”

RUNDOWN: Right about now, Barnegat Bay is holding the best bassing turf. Schoolies are most catchable after dark, though a daytime bite can be had when chucking bait.

Manahawkin Bay is primed, though I won’t get into exactly where, on and around the bridges, to seek spring bass – by using plastic, or even slowly presented surface poppers and swimmers.

The Ship Bottom fishing pier is worth some nighttime casts, though the nearby Hochstrasser span is assuming its old role as a bass magnet. One sharpie is plugging the nearby weakfish flats to nab bass to 25 inches.

In “Town” (Beach Haven), common bayside fishing areas are offering some stripering, though there is no pattern to when the bass are inclined to take in slowly presented artificials.

Bayside Holgate sod banks saw a couple nice stripers taken, one a keepable. Not sure if that was from shore or from boat/kayak. There’s still a ton of secrecy among anglers, even when nobody is around to inch in.

As implied above, the beach is seemingly juiced for bait fishing, via clams, worms or smaller bunker chunks. A combo of real and fake-o worms is a go-to presentation.

LBI surfcasting all comes down to weather, wind/waves and water clarity. And, yes, clearer water can be a significant bettering factor when in pursuit of scattered spring bass.

While I seldom report on them due to limited nearby take areas, white perch are starting to show, but barely so. J.M got enough to “fry up.” He used grass shrimp that he netted himself off Road-to-Nowhere.

I can’t help but get this sense that our April waters are livelier than they have been in years. I’m basing this on a slew of assorted marine life sightings, including amazing gannet play and seals so well fed they’re simply taking single bites out of captured seafood prey then dropping the rest out.

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