Dry Conditions Spawn Brush Fires From Meadowlands To Pine Barrens This Week
Worst fears have been realized around the Garden State this week. After a quiet winter that saw snowfall levels fall some 20 inches below average in places such as Newark, and a dry spring with only about a half inch of rain in Northwestern Middlesex County, brush fires have exploded around New Jersey.
Although the fire threat had subsided over the past 24 to 36 hours thanks to the presence of clouds and higher humidity as well as some sprinkles or spritzes of rain, the National Weather Service Office in Mount Holly still issued a Special Weather Statement on Thursday morning that indicated an elevated risk of wildfires.
Yesterday, I traveled down to Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge and Matawan, and there the New Jersey Forest Service still was calling for an Extreme Fire Danger. Grass and vegetation is still very dry while humidity levels have been quite low. All that is needed are winds around 20 miles per hour to stir up some fiery trouble. So far this week, that has happened. Brush fires and ordinary neighborhood fires have popped up all over New Jersey from the Meadowlands in Bergen County to the Pine Barrens in Ocean and Burlington County.
On Monday alone, there were 21 fires around the Garden State that scorched about 1,000 acres. Since January, approximately 1,700 acres have been burned by fire. Some of those occurred back in early March in Ocean County. The recent rash of wildfires has made New Jersey seem more like California during the Santa Anna Wind season. Thankfully, there have been no such fires here in Northwestern Middlesex County. The last time such a fire occurred in South Plainfield was back in the early 1980s when severe drought helped spark a brush fire in the swamp near my neighborhood.
Yesterday, on my way back home from Cheesequake, I saw the smoke coming from further north and the fire in Carlstadt near the Meadowlands in Bergen County. In addition to the wildfires around the Garden State there have also been fires in Staten Island, and Long Island. The latter fire occurring near the National Weather Service Office in Upon, New York. So far this year, we have only had 3.9 inches of rain here in South Plainfield. Two thirds of that came during the month of January.
Meanwhile, the winds have been ferocious during the first three and a half months of 2012. Winds have peaked between 16 and 22 miles per hour here at the GWC weather station. Keep in mind that the station is close to the surface where the impact from the wind is lessened due to the presence of trees and houses. So, wind speeds are much higher than that in high profile areas. People need to take extreme care with conditions this dry. Residents should refrain from cooking or lighting matches outdoors, and when they are putting out their cigarette butts.