Huge forest fire still 95% contained as smoke drifts toward South Jersey towns

The huge fire in Wharton State Forest that firefighters have been battling since Sunday remains 95% contained as of Wednesday morning as shifting winds have pushed the smoke toward the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia.

The fire along the Mullica River in Washington, Shamong, Hammonton and Mullica townships has consumed 13,500 acres as of 10:30 a.m. today — the same amount as the New Jersey Forest Fire Service reported just after 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Authorities say an “illegal campfire” ignited the fire, which broke out around 10 a.m. Sunday in a remote area of the 122,880 acre forest that spans Atlantic, Burlington, Camden counties. It quickly grew due to low humidity and breezy conditions, officials said.

Cherry Hill, Evesham and Mount Laurel officials are among the towns warning residents to get used to the smell of smoke.

“The smoke from the fire will continue for a few more days until the fire is fully extinguished,” the Cherry Hill fire department said. “As the winds are moving in from the east and with higher humidity you may smell smoke in the Cherry Hill area, as we have received several calls already.”

Police in neighboring Evesham offered a similar message.

“Due to atmospheric conditions, the smoke and odor from the wildfire in Wharton State Forest is evident in Evesham and surrounding towns,” Evesham police said. “The fire is expected to continue burning for several days and until there’s significant rainfall.”

Atsion Recreation Area and Batsto Village reopened at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Hiking and biking trails between Atsion and Batsto remain closed, though. Kayaking and canoeing on the Mullica and Batsto rivers is also off-limits for the time being and the Mullica River Campground remains closed.

Route 206 and Route 542 reopened on Tuesday, though officials warned Wednesday that firefighters and fire vehicles remain in the area to monitor conditions and put out hot spots.

“Motorists traveling in the area should remain cautious of smoke, firefighters and fire vehicles that may be working on nearby roadways,” the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said.

The State Forest Fire Service asks anyone with information about the fire to call its Division B office at 609-726-9010.

Officials said Wednesday’s update will be the final one “unless there is a significant development.”

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Jeff Goldman may be reached at

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