New Jersey forest fire grows to 11,000 acres as natural causes ruled out

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New Jersey forest fire grows to 11,000 acres as natural causes ruled out

The Wharton State Forest fire in New Jersey has grown to 11,000 acres and is 50% contained, according to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Photo courtesy of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Fire crews are battling a massive wildfire in Wharton State Forest that has spread over 11,000 acres, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said Monday as it ruled out natural causes.

The fire, which is burning in southern New Jersey’s pine lands, is 50% contained, officials said.

Crews continue “to make progress on containing a wildfire in Wharton State Forest — Washington, Shamong, Hammonton and Mullica Townships,” the New Jersey Forest Fire Service tweeted.

Fire officials estimate the fire, which as of Monday has no known cause, could reach 15,000 acres before it is contained — making it the largest fire in the area since 2007.

Firefighters are dealing with dry and windy conditions as thick white smoke and flames can be seen for miles. Investigators said the fire started Sunday in a remote area along the Mullica River.

“We have essentially ruled out natural causes and so we’ll continue to investigate the fire,” said Gregory McLaughlin, chief and state fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “Once a cause is determined, charges could be filed.”

Crews closed two roads, along with a number of campgrounds and boat launches. Paradise Lakes Campground, where 18 structures were threatened by flames, was also evacuated. All hiking and mountain bike trails are currently closed to visitors. No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews are reminding people to keep their drones out of the area. “No Drones in Fire Zones — If YOU fly, WE can’t!”

The forest service said it hopes to have the fire completely contained by Wednesday, or sooner if it rains.

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