TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Wildfire season began this weekend in New Jersey, and while forest service managers say they aren’t expecting more fires than usual, one thing does stand in their way: the trees knocked down by Superstorm Sandy.
Forest Fire Service officials said they are concerned that downed trees blocking roads and trails could create access issues to woods where fires typically start. While firefighters can remove some of the debris, there is too much of it and it’s too heavy to clear all of it.
Delays in accessing a fire leaves it room to grow and possibly ignite the trees on the ground, making it a much tougher fire to fight compared with smoldering leaves and branches.
Fire managers say the biggest problem will be in the northern half of the state where many the trees fell.
“Not all of those roads and trails have been cleaned and they may never be cleaned,” Assistant State Fire Warden Stephen Maurer said. “They’re in our way.”
Saturday marked the start of wildfire season, he said.
The state forest service is equipped with planes to fight the fires from the air but they do not have plans to bring on more to ease the problem on the ground.
“We’re putting on as many as we can afford,” Maurer said of the planes.
Maurer said frequent rain and snow this season has helped stave off drought conditions, unlike last year when groundwater levels were low. He said other than dealing with the downed trees a normal wildfire season is expected.
New Jersey’s Forest Fire Service recorded 122 fires across the state in 2012. This year, it has reported 48 fires as of March 3.
Friday was the last day the state forest service was conducting prescribed burns, a method used to take out heavy fuels to reduce the risk of wildfires by clearing vegetation.
Maurer said there have been 14 days since January where weather was favorable enough to conduct the burns. He said the forest service has set 160 burns since January with most measuring between 100 to 300 acres.
Maurer said nearly every wildfire in New Jersey is started by people. He stressed to those hiking and camping in the woods this spring and summer to put out cigarettes, campfires and camping stoves to help prevent fires.
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