Southern NJ forest fire is mostly contained; no injuries
A forest fire burning in southern New Jersey was 95% contained as of late afternoon Tuesday, and firefighters were confident it would not spread beyond perimeter lines they had created.
The fire in Wharton State Forest is believed to have been caused by an illegal, unattended campfire in the woods, said Greg McLaughlin, chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
He said the fire had burned 13,500 of the 15,175-acre containment area that was set up around it. That estimate remained current as of late Tuesday afternoon.
No one was injured and none of the 18 structures threatened was actually damaged.
The blaze broke out at 10 a.m. Sunday and quickly spread to areas in Washington Township in Burlington County and Mullica Township in Atlantic County.
“It was essentially a makeshift (camp) fire,” McLaughlin said. “We suspect that people were passing through, whether on the river or hiking. But we have ruled out natural causes.”
At least 50 people had to be evacuated from remote camp sites within the forest that were only accessible by river or through hiking.
The fire was burning in a remote area of the forest where access is difficult because of the configuration of roads through the park, and the fact that many of them are pitted with holes that fill with water, slowing the progress of arriving firefighting vehicles.
Firefighters used 22 engines, a helicopter with a 325-gallon bucket, and other equipment to battle the fire, which was expected to continue to spew smoke for several more days.
Local roads near the fire were opened Tuesday morning.
The blaze threatened nearly half the 40 historic structures in Batsto Village, a tourist attraction popular with hikers and canoers.
Fire trucks were stationed near these buildings as well as some private structures that were in the path of the fire to protect them.
Hiking trails in Wharton State Forest will continue to be off-limits for several days until they can be inspected for any safety hazards.
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC