NJ Forest Fire Burns 12K Acres, Prompts Highway Closures

NEW JERSEY – A forest fire that burned 12,000 acres and prompted evacuations in New Jersey’s largest state forest is now mostly contained, officials said Monday night.

The blaze in Wharton State Forest, which originated Sunday, has burned parts of land in Hammonton, Mullica, Shamong and Washington townships, as well as caused road closures and detours in South Jersey, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said.

50 residents have been evacuated from the area per NJ.com, and Route 206 from Chew to Astion roads and Route 542 from Green Back to Columbia roads remain closed.

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“Motorists traveling in the area should remain cautious of smoke and watch for firefighters and fire vehicles that may be working on nearby roadways. Smoke impacts will remain elevated into the evening hours as winds diminish, and partial cloud cover moves over the area,” the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said.

Haze and smoke are likely to be seen in the morning hours of Tuesday, forecasters from the National Weather Service said. Galloway police said Monday that there is a “strong odor of wood burning” present throughout town as well.

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Shawn LaTourette, the state Commissioner of Environmental Protection, said the Mullica River Fire could spread to 15,000 acres before it’s completely contained. That would make it the largest fire in 15 years, he said at a Monday press conference.

“We’ve got to take our use of our natural resources very seriously,” said LaTourette. He and other officials mentioned several ways humans can accidentally cause fires, but did not point to any specific one as the reason this latest burn began.

In a Monday evening statement, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service noted that 18 structures are currently still threatened by the blaze, and structure protection is in place thanks to local volunteer fire departments from Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties.

There are no reported injuries as of Monday night.

Batsto Village in Washington Township and all associated hiking and mountain bike trails are closed to visitors until further notice, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service added.

The Atsion Recreation Area in Shamong is also closed, as well as the Mullica River Campground, Lower Forge Campground, Mullica River Trail and boat launches along the Mullica River from the Atsion Recreation Area to Batsto Village.

Pinelands Adventures in Shamong has also suspended kayak and canoe trips until further notice.

Authorities said they will continue to provide updates on the progress of containing the fire.

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