The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. The alert, issued during times of potential fire risk, is in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
NWS meteorologists say dry weather conditions and strong wind gusts in tandem can mean an increased risk of a wildfire turning dangerous.
The area has had little precipitation of late. Additionally, the humidity is below 20 percent, temperatures are mild and winds could gust up to 30 mph. The combination, scientists warn, create the potential for a rapid spread if uncontrolled fires develop.
The NWS Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will develop shortly.
Just last week, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martinurged the public to exercise caution during these dry and windy conditions. Fire danger is currently rated as high throughout most of the state, meaning wildfires, once started, can spread rapidly.
"Conditions have been dry coming out of the winter and into early spring," Martin said. "A carelessly tossed match or cigarette, an improperly tended campfire, even a poorly maintained chimney can spark disaster."
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has responded to 315 wildfires that have burned 254 acres so far this year, compared with 167 fires that burned 176 acres during the same period last year.
"We've been experiencing a series of weak cold fronts that bring little precipitation but cause higher winds and lower humidity that can dry out forest," said Forest Fire Service Acting Chief Michael Drake. "As a result, the Forest Fire Service is stepping up fire patrols, manning of fire observation towers, and other response capabilities."
Fire danger is exacerbated by the fact that the forest canopy has not leafed out, allowing the sun and wind to dry the forest floor.
Ninety-nine percent of all wildfires in New Jersey are caused by human activity, usually carelessness, negligence or arson.
The DEP offers these guidelines to reduce the risk of fires:
- Use ashtrays in vehicles. Discarding cigarettes, matches and smoking materials is a violation of New Jersey law.
- Obtain necessary permits for campfires. Don't leave fires unattended. Douse them completely.
- Keep matches and lighters away from children. Teach them the dangers of fire.
- People living near woods should maintain a defensible buffer by clearing vegetation within 30 feet of any structures. Also, make sure fire trucks can pass down your driveway.
- Report suspicious vehicles and individuals. Arson is a major cause of forest fires in New Jersey.
For more information on wildfires and fire safety, visit www.njwildfire.org