Working Wildfire Involves 10,000 Acres of Core Pinelands

Mar 31, 2019
Photo by: Rick Pumphrey

A forest fire of unknown origin has become one of the state’s largest wildfires in over a decade, consuming between 8,000 and 10,000 acres, much of it within Penn State Forest.

It is being called Spring Hill Fire and was first reported around 1:45 p.m. Saturday, according to Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

According to authorities, south winds gusting to over 25 mph quickly spread the blaze from its point of origin. The fire also comes during a seasonally high wildfire danger point. Springtime offers readily available fuel from still dormant and overwintering foliage.

By late Saturday, heavy smoke and flames to over 30 feet in height led to the closing of a heavily used section of Route 72 in Burlington and Ocean counties, between routes 532 and 539. The roadway remained closed as of midday Sunday but was declared open by about 4 p.m.

As of noon, the wildfire was over 75 percent contained, as more than 50 Forest Fire Service firefighters began getting the upper hand, helped by rain showers associated with a cold front. However, the fire had not been declared as under control, per John Rieth, an assistant warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

A wildfire is not considered fully contained until there is no chance of it further spreading. An expected wind shift by this evening could usher in west winds between 25 and 35 mph, possibly fanning any remaining hotspots, something the forest fire service will be monitoring.

Along with closing roads in the area of the fire, communities as far away as North Jersey and New York were alarmed by the smell of the wildfire and began alerting local fire companies. According to a National Weather Service Mount Holly tweet, the far-ranging smoke was due to atmospheric conditions that held the smoke close to the ground level.

No injuries have been reported, though respiratory difficulties were reported by some residents close to the blaze. Non-mandatory evacuations were made by some residents near Chatsworth.

No homes have been damaged or destroyed, according to the NJDEP.

Authorities have already begun investigating the cause of the fire, focusing on the apparent point of origin in the Spring Hills Plains pygmy pines area of Burlington County.

— Jay Mann

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