In Brief

Forest fire service gets funding boost after New Jersey’s worst wildfire season in decade

By: - September 21, 2023 4:33 pm

Firefighters battled more than 1,000 forest fires this year, with 14 blazes considered major. That's the worst wildfire season in a decade. (Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection)

This year has been the busiest wildfire season in New Jersey in over a decade, prompting Gov. Phil Murphy to send state environmental officials an extra $3 million to hire more firefighters and upgrade fire trucks.

The state Forest Fire Service has responded to 1,034 wildfires so far this year, 14 of which burned more than 100 acres, which officials consider major wildfires, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Altogether the 1,034 fires burned 17,979 acres, with most in the wildfire-prone Pinelands region of South Jersey.

The biggest single fire torched almost 5,500 acres and forced authorities to close a campground and part of the Garden State Parkway in late May in the Pinelands’ Bass River State Forest in Burlington County. Other fires have threatened homes, including the “Jimmy’s Waterhole” fire in the Pinelands that burned 3,450 acres and prompted authorities to evacuate 170 homes.

Wildfire season nationally has grown longer in recent years, a trend environmentalists blame on climate change for causing hotter, drier periods that can turn lush forests into kindling for fires most often set by people through accidents, carelessness, or arson.

In New Jersey, wildfire season historically has run from mid-March through mid-May but has extended from February through the summer in the past decade.

The extra state funding will be spent to upgrade the forest fire service’s aging fleet of fire engines, hire more staff to fill vacancies, and expand contracted air support during peak spring fire season, said Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn LaTourette.

LaTourette and other state environmental officials announced the new funding Thursday at the Coyle Field Forest Fire Service air attack base in Burlington County.

“This year we saw the challenges the Forest Fire Service can face with a prolonged wildfire season and multiple significant wildfires burning simultaneously in the Pinelands and elsewhere throughout the state,” said John Cecil, assistant commissioner for state parks, forests and historic sites.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.