ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Active forest fire prevention protects lives, property and the health of New Jersey’s forests and natural resources, according to a March 4 press release from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. To reduce dense undergrowth and other forest debris that have the potential to fuel wildfires this spring, NJDEP’s Forest Fire Service is conducting prescribed burns throughout the state, acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette announced.
During prescribed burns, trained Forest Fire Service personnel use handheld torches to set smaller fires to burn away fallen leaves and branches, pine needles and other vegetation on the forest floor.
As New Jersey’s climate continues to change, forest maintenance, including prescribed burning, takes on even greater importance. New Jersey’s changing climate increases the risk for more frequent and larger wildfires due to longer, hotter periods of dry weather, as described in the New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change, released in 2020. Prescribed burns are carefully planned and managed based on atmospheric conditions; carbon emissions from prescribed burns represent a small fraction of the emissions that could be produced in a wildfire.
“Prescribed burning not only helps protect the lives and property of those who live in or near forested areas, it is also an important part of the state’s carbon defense strategy, protecting carbon stored in forests from wildfire risk,” LaTourette said. “By taking careful steps to manage forest health, we can avoid potentially catastrophic releases of carbon from wildfires that, due to climate change, are routinely destroying communities and ecosystems while increasing harmful emissions.”
Prescribed burns are generally conducted during the fall and winter when vegetation contains less moisture and leaves are off, because this helps to reduce the amount of smoke produced. The Forest Fire Service follows a highly structured plan to manage temporary smoke effects during prescribed burning season, which usually runs until mid-March.
The Forest Fire Service anticipates conducting prescribed burns on at least 30,000 acres, depending on favorable weather conditions. Most burns will occur on state-owned property, such as state forests, parks and wildlife management areas, and other government lands. The Forest Fire Service also assists private landowners and nonprofit organizations to meet their management objectives through prescribed burning.
Residents and visitors in the vicinity of prescribed burns should expect to see large plumes of smoke and possibly experience temporary smoke effects at this time of year. Peak wildfire season begins in late March and continues through early May, depending on rainfall and weather.
To sign up for text or email notifications of prescribed burns, visit https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/NJDEP/subscriber/new. When in doubt about the source of smoke or unsure whether a fire is part of a prescribed burning operation, call 877-927-6337 or 9-1-1.
In 2020, the Forest Fire Service completed controlled burns on 18,854 acres of state-owned lands, 5,006 acres of other government-owned land and 2,268 acres of privately owned property, for a total of 26,128 acres.