DOWNE TOWNSHIP – Around-the-clock efforts to contain a fire that burned hundreds of acres of state woodlands here finally brought the blaze under control early Friday, according to New Jersey officials.

Firefighters worked “overnight and into the early morning” to contain the blaze that began Wednesday at the Edward G. Bevans Wildlife Management Area, they said.

“Under control means there is very little likelihood that it would escape containment lines,” state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said.

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Fires are still smoldering in the 1,533 acres that were burned, Hajna said. Some firefighters will remain on the scene for a while for “mopup” operations and to secure fire control lines, he said.

In all, the fire burned about 10 percent of the wildlife management area’s more than 16,000 acres.

The National Weather Service is predicting more than a half-inch of rain could fall Friday evening and into this morning. Hajna said that “any rain would help” ongoing firefighting efforts.

The blaze here is one of several fires of varying sizes that broke out in New Jersey this week. The blazes occurred at a time when state and federal agencies said weather conditions left New Jersey particularly vulnerable to fires.

State and local officials said:

- A 300-acre fire that started about 11:45 a.m. in Berkeley Township, Ocean County, is now under control.

- A half-acre brush fire caused by careless smoking about 2 p.m. on Thursday on Pomona Road in Galloway Township, Atlantic County, was extinguished quickly.

- A forest fire that began around 11 a.m. Friday in Shamong Township, Burlington County, is expected to consume about 200 acres.

- A fire that began around 6 p.m. Thursday in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, has burned about 500 acres.

The state Forest Fire Service continues to list the forest fire danger level as “high” for much of the state, including all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties.

DEP on Friday opted to continue its Stage 3 fire ban in all state parks in southern and central New Jersey through Saturday. The ban prohibits all fires in wooded areas unless those fires are contained in an elevated stove that uses only propane, natural gas, gas or electricity. The ban specifically prohibits charcoal fires.

The National Weather Service has dropped a “red flag warning” that extended from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. for much of South Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware on Thursday. The warning meant that “critical fire weather conditions” exist or will exist because of a combination of high winds, low relative humidity and dry fuels, according to the service’s website.

However, the National Weather Service still warned of an “enhanced risk of fire” for that same area from late Friday morning into Friday afternoon.

The largest of the fires that broke out this week continues to be the one in Downe Township.

The blaze was first spotted around 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday by an observer in a fire tower in the Dias Creek section of Middle Township, Cape May County, said Joe Battersby, a section warden with the state Forest Fire Service. Brownish smoke could soon be seen rising from the fire site and was visible for miles.

Forest Fire Service officials said they used at least one helicopter on Wednesday to determine the size of the blaze and which direction it was headed. Winds in the area were blowing at around 20 miles an hour on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, which also reported that smoke from the blaze was drifting over some Cape May County seashore resorts.

Firefighters made progress throughout Thursday: DEP officials said the blaze was about 55 percent contained by Thursday morning. Battersby set the containment figure at 85 percent by late Thursday afternoon.

Hajna said about 25 members of the state Forest Fire Service the scene Thursday. They were using a lot of existing features, such as roads, rights of way and fire lanes left over from previous blazes, to contain the conflagration, he said. The number of firefighters now on the scene is about ten, he said.

Firefighting efforts resulted in no injuries, Hajna said.


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