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New Jersey forest fire only 40 percent contained, could smolder for days

by Jeff Goldman, Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger |

Firefighters are still working to contain a forest fire that started in New Jersey's Bass River State Forest and has burned 617 acres in Little Egg Harbor, an official said Monday.

There have been no significant injuries and no significant property damage due to the fire, which broke out Sunday morning east of the Garden State Parkway and across Barnegat Bay from Long Beach Island, according to Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Richard J. Buzby Jr. The fire initially threatened 100 homes, but that has been reduced to 30 Monday.

The fire “could have been very tragic, but for a brilliant response once again by our colleagues at the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service,” Buzby said. “We lost no homes, no significant property.”

Route 9 has been reopened in the area, though several local roads remain shut, New Jersey Forest Fire Service Warden Trevor Raynor said. Residents can expect to smell smoke and burning for several days, with no rain in the forecast, according to police.

As of Monday morning, the fire was 40 percent contained, with that percentage expected to climb through the day, Raynor said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“It’s pretty well-contained at this point,” Raynor said at a press conference outside Little Egg Harbor police headquarters on Monday. “We’re not expecting any increase in acreage.”

Local fire departments are protecting homes while the New Jersey Forest Fire Service handles fire suppression.

High humidity and light winds allowed the fire to smolder overnight, but winds today will “reinvigorate the fire, wake it up, so we’re going to remain vigilant,” Raynor said.

The fire covered about five to 10 acres when it was initially detected Sunday morning, with flames nearly 215 feet high. Firefighters fought the blaze safely from paved roads around its perimeter.

Firefighters worked through the night to set up a containment area by setting small, controlled fires around the main fire, the forest fire service said. The method also creates a buffer between structures and the main fire, it added.

The fire was centered west of Otis Bog Road and south of Stage Road in Little Egg Harbor, officials said.