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CBS New York joins the New Jersey Forest Fire Service during a prescribed burn ahead of peak wildfire season

New Jersey firefighters conduct prescribed burns ahead of peak wildfire season
New Jersey firefighters conduct prescribed burns ahead of peak wildfire season 02:02

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Peak wildfire season starts mid-March, but the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is already working hard to prevent them from threatening lives and property.

CBS New York's Vanessa Murdock joined them in Monmouth County during a prescribed burn.

A firefighter used a drip torch fueled by gasoline to drag the prescribed burn in the Turkey Swamp Wildlife Management Area. It was considered a low-intensity fire set with intention in a high-risk area.

"Prescribed burn, the key word being 'prescription.' So there's a whole set of weather parameters -- wind, temperature, humidity, personnel available," Assistant Division Forest Fire Warden Trevor Raynor said.

He says every parameter must be in the division's favor.

The flames rid the swamp of fuel -- dead leaves, dried grass, pine needles.

"Reducing the likelihood of a future wildfire here, and/or we can steer wildfires into this burn block should there be a wildfire nearby," Raynor said.

Another tool in the arsenal is the just-introduced New Jersey Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, designed to help communities mitigate risk and identify future need for prescribed burns.

Section Fire Warden Deale Carey checked on his crew inside the perimeter while the rest of the guys doused flames roadside to keep the burn in check.

Prescribed burns are started to prevent seasons like 2023. Last year was one of the most active wildfire seasons in more than 20 years with 14 major wildfires, each larger than 100 acres.

The one with the biggest impact was Jimmy's Water Hole in Ocean County, an inferno raging through the Pine Barrens that threatened 175 homes and charred nearly 3,500 acres. The most unusual was the Kanouse Fire in West Milford, which singed 972 acres.

"Most of those large wildfires were in the spring and early summer, and it did tax our resources. A lot of fatigue among the troops," Raynor said.

They persevered, but hope the weather, human behavior and prescribed burns act in harmony for a less intense season.

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