Call the New Jersey Forest Fire Service office in Andover at (973) 786-6350 or 9-1-1 to report suspicious fires.
Bob Wolff, retired state forest firefighter and current fire observer stationed more often than not above us in Hardwick’s Catfish Fire Tower on the Kittatinny Ridge, reports that the wildfire risk is both enhanced and VERY HIGH today, Tuesday, April 11.
Enhanced means fire dangers include wildfires with a likelihood of spreading fast and causing more damage. “Very High” is posted in orange on the status signs found in numerous places.
In fact, things are bad statewide. He said there’s a fixed wing air tanker statoned in the Pine Barrens where there is an ongoing fire, another wildfire taking place near Portland, Pennsylvania with embers blowing across the Delaware, a firefighting helicopter stationed at Aeroflex Airport in Andover and all firetowers are staffed until 7 p.m.
Sadly, he said that illegal burning of debris has caused many fires this year. One very disturbing instance took place in late March when a Passaic County homeowner started a fire to burn debris around his house. The fire hadn’t been called in and thus was illegal. It quickly got out of control and burned his neighbor’s house down. He’s been charged with arson for the illegal burn of his neighbor’s house and aggravated assault when three volunteer firefighters were injured dealing with the blaze.
“Most of our recent fires have been caused by untreated ashes igniting on their own,” said Wolff.
Spent wood ashes are supposed to be stirred with water before discarding and only in firesafe areas, i.e. under soil, away from structures and not beneath trees.
Other ways wildfires start is by dead trees falling on electrical equipment. Across America at this time, all untreated white ash trees are dying from insect infestations of the emerald ash borer (EAB). For more information about what you can do if EAB is suspected on your property, visit your local Cooperative Extension Office or read our article from last year (Ridge View Echo, “Beloved Ash Trees Under Attack”- March 1, 2022).
Infestations are quite easy to discern in that the tree will start “blonding” as woodpeckers tear the bark off searching for the bugs. Within three years, the EAB will cause the tree to die from within as the borers munch away at the vital cambium layer of the tree, thus robbing it of food from the leaves. Often these trees die standing upright, a threat to firefighters. Only a relatively few ash trees can be annually treated to withstand the blight, thus it is increasing wildfire danger.
Yesterday, a fire took place in Fredon on Old Middlevile Road. Easter Sunday, a wildfire broke out in Hampton. In Liberty Township, a working structure fire not only destroyed the house, but also started four wildfires that took a long time to combat, Wolff said.
As he was describing the situation, Wolff was preparing to clear brush around Catfish Fire Tower before ascending up high to start his day of necessary observations.
“Detection is very important,” said Wolff. “We’d rather go out to check that everything is safe, than fight fires. Sometimes the fire can not be easily observed from the road.”
The old adage of “see something, say something,” applies now more than ever with the forests so dry.
Carelessness is dangerous. He said years ago, there was more funding for Smokey Bear fire prevention programs. Property owners are mostly on their own now to teach younger generations fire prevention measures, check on and adhere to the fire danger warnings, alert trained personnel of the need for burning brush at home and report instances of fire.
Desi L. Dunn, Managing Editor
Born & educated in NY with an Environmental Science degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Desi's family resides in Hardwick with a young teen and several spoiled pets. Considering northwest Jersey to be a true gem, her commitment to the people and environs is exemplified by the many different jobs she's had - municipal & county official, election clerk, open space plan writer, newspaper & radio journalist, grant writer, events coordinator and farm market manager as well as retail, waitressing, archaeological digger and once for a short while in a very huge warehouse.
Her favorite was as a reporter for many years with the Recorder newspapers, Blairstown Press, Paulinskill Chronicle, Gannett publications plus WNTI Public Radio producing public affairs and human interest stories on-air.
She often has her camera ready to capture interesting people and events. She's thrilled to now serve as RVE's Managing Editor, helping fellow writers hone their skills and show you the issues as well as treasures that exist in North Warren, through their eyes.