The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is warning residents that spring wildfire season is getting underway, and people need to use caution.
The NJFFS said 99 percent of wildfires are caused by people through accidents, carelessness, negligence or arson. Extra vigilance is vital to reduce the risk at this time of year, when weather and other factors are friendly to wildfires.
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“The beginning of wildfire season can vary from year to year, depending on weather conditions,” Forest Fire Service Chief Bill Edwards said in a news release Thursday. “This year we are off to a somewhat earlier start, because the winter became drier and warmer than normal as we progressed into late February. We cannot stress enough that a moment of carelessness can lead to wildfires that can place properties and lives at risk.”
The risk of wildfire is increased by spring’s dry, warm, windy weather, especially now, when trees and shrubs have not fully leafed out, the NJFFS said. Fallen trees, dormant plants, and leaf and pine needle litter on the ground dry out quickly and ignite easily, fueling wildfires that can threaten property.
All of New Jersey currently is at moderate risk of wildfires, the NJFFS said.
Fire risks go up as homes are built in wooded areas, the NJFFS said. The Pine Barrens are particularly vulnerable, due to the predominant tree and shrub species and how quickly the porous, sandy soil dries out after rains, the NJFFS said.
Most wildfires are preventable, and people are asked to follow these guidelines to reduce fire risk:
• Use ashtrays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking materials on the ground is against the law.
• Permits are required for campfires. Don’t leave fires unattended. Douse them completely when finished.
• Keep matches and lighters away from children, and teach them about fire dangers.
• People living in wooded areas should clear vegetation within at least 30 feet of structures to maintain a defensible buffer zone. Make sure driveways are accessible to firetrucks.
• Pinelands property owners are strongly urged to keep at least 100 feet of defensible space around structures — areas kept clear of vegetation that burns easily, fallen leaves, pine needles, twigs and branches.
• Report suspicious vehicles and people to authorities.
• Be careful with wood stoves and fireplaces, as both can emit embers that set off spark fires. Fully douse ashes with water before disposal.
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The NJFFS works to prevent wildfires year-round through public outreach and education efforts, maintenance of fire breaks and prescribed burns.
This past winter and spring, the NJFFS did prescribed burns on more than 15,000 acres of woods and grasslands. These burns reduce fire risks and keep forests healthy by burning away litter and dense undergrowth while weather conditions are favorable.
For more information on wildfire safety, prevention, tips to protect homes, and current conditions, see njwildfire.org.