Two Pinelands fires termed suspicious

The blazes scorched about 400 acres near the A.C. Expressway on Friday. There were no injuries.

Posted: April 08, 2012

New Jersey environmental officials have characterized as suspicious the two forest fires that blackened about 400 acres in the Pinelands near the Atlantic City Expressway.

No injuries or evacuations were reported in the fires Friday that burned in and around remote areas of the Winslow Wildlife Management Area in Camden County.

Both were still burning but fully contained Saturday afternoon, according to authorities. Officials hoped to have the blazes extinguished during the weekend.

The fires remain under investigation and were considered suspicious because they began so close to each other, said Larry Ragonese, a state Environmental Protection Department spokesman.

On Friday, more than 40 Forest Fire Service personnel backed by two helicopters battled the fires, Ragonese said. Winds from the north kept smoke mostly away from the expressway.

The fires coincided with a red-flag warning from the National Weather Service for much of the region because conditions - high winds, low humidity, dry ground cover - were ripe for fires.

Ragonese said forestry workers already were preparing for wildfire season with controlled burns. He urged residents to be cautious with outdoor fires and disposing of cigarettes.

The worst wildfire in state history burned 190,000 acres in the Pinelands in 1963, destroying 185 homes and killing seven people. In 2007, 17,000 acres burned after a National Guard pilot on a training mission dropped a flare into the Pinelands.

Inquirer staff writer Darren Simon contributed to this article.

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