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Flatiron wildfire in Medford, NJ, 100% contained, fire officials say

Flatiron fire in Medford 100% contained
Flatiron fire in Medford 100% contained 00:55

MEDFORD, N.J. (CBS) -- A wildfire that broke out in Medford, New Jersey Saturday morning is now 100% contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service says. The fire threatened 40 homes and one shed was destroyed.

There is a smoke advisory in the area.

Officials say the 210-acre wildfire broke out in the area of Elderberry Dr. & Jackson Rd. in Medford, Burlington County overnight and the staff will stay on the scene to monitor the area.

In a final update Saturday night, NJFFS says Jackson Road reopened to local traffic only and remains closed to thru traffic.

"Due to predicted weather conditions, smoke from the Flatiron Wildfire burning in Medford, Burlington County, is expected to hang low to the ground and reduce visibility during the evening and overnight hours," NJFFS said. "The most severe smoke impacts are expected to the west, south and in the immediate proximity of the Flatiron Wildfire. The fire is located in the area of Elderberry Dr. & Jackson Rd."

No injuries were reported and the cause of the wildfire is under investigation.

Flames broke out in the Flatiron, a dense wooded area of the Pinelands near Medford after midnight, Chief Greg McLaughlin of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said in a news conference earlier Saturday.

Officials say the containment area has strong fire barriers including roads and streams.

The fire happened in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) - a transitional area between woods and residential areas. Firefighters were working to establish containment lines to stop the fire from reaching homes.

"They were able to move the fire away from the homes, that work was successful," McLaughlin said. "Today, last night, this morning, we were really lucky. This is a highly developed area and there's a lot of interface here, there's a lot of people that live here, there's high potential for property damage, structure damage."

Medford-Jackson Road is closed from Gravelly Hollow Road down through the St. James Gate area as a result of this fire.

Residents were told to remain in their homes and firefighters worked to conduct backfires and burnout operations to move the fire away from the homes.

Photos from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showed firefighters at work overnight.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Tom Gerber, a veteran fire warden and the incident commander for the fire, said the fire broke out in a "very explosive" area of the Pine Barrens that hasn't burned since 1954 and is dense with trees and brush that could fuel a fire.

In addition, the area has developed over the years and has homes nearby.

"We had fire coming towards the properties on Elderberry, so we did our indirect attack, which was actually working right in the folks' backyards," Gerber said.

Medford's Fire and EMS Chief said "we put fire trucks in just about every driveway in front of every single house" in the area.

On the other end of the county, firefighters were making progress on the Allen Road fire in Bass River State Forest. That fire has grown to 5,950 acres and is approaching 100% containment, McLaughlin said.

This week, smoke from the Allen Road fire was leading to air quality alerts in New Jersey and Delaware.

Chief: "We were really lucky" Medford fire did not damage homes 01:10

Medford fire comes in busy year for forest fires in New Jersey

After the driest May on record, New Jersey Forest Fire Service has responded to nine major fires this year.

A "major" fire is anything over 100 acres, McLaughlin said. A typical year has maybe three or four  - but this week alone, crews have battled the Box Turtle fire in Gloucester County, the massive Bass River State Forest fire and now this Flatiron fire.

"It's been really dry, it's been several weeks without significant rainfall," McLaughlin said.

Crews are being rotated in from less busy areas to give firefighters some relief.  

"We have a couple things going on, it's been a little bit of a long week with some long nights and some long days, and we're seeing some higher temperatures that we're not really acclimated to yet. So we're starting to see some fatigue set in," McLaughlin said.

In addition, wildfire season is starting earlier and extending later as the climate changes.

McLaughlin said so far this year, NJFFS has responded to 2,000 incidents, 1,400 of which were wildfires. Those fires have burned 26,000 acres.

Southern New Jersey Commissioner Jonathan Young released a statement Saturday evening about the fire and its impacts on the air quality in Camden County:

"In some parts of central and southern Camden County this morning, residents may have woken up to the smell of smoke and seen small flickers of ash from the Flatiron Wildfire. That said, the Camden County Office of Emergency Management has been monitoring the situation in Medford Township through their peers in Burlington County and the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. The last report we received is what started out as a brush fire has grown into a working wildfire encompassing about 180 acres. Our latest report was that the fire was approximately 60% contained now and the fire service was making good progress. Nevertheless, the fire is not physically near our county, but the wind has carried some of the smell and ash our way.

That said, tonight, depending on the force and trajectory of the wind, residents may continue to smell more smoke during the shifting atmospheric conditions. Based on that, know that the source of the forest fire is far away, and that Camden County is not under any threat. We will continue to monitor this situation and brief the public if more pertinent information is relayed back to us from our partners."

Nikki DeMentri and Brandon Goldner contributed to this report.

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