Human activity caused New Jersey forest fire, investigators say

CHATSWORTH, N.J. — Someone in a remote area deep in the New Jersey Pinelands that is a known gathering spot for illegal bonfires caused a blaze that burned more than 11,600 acres, investigators said Monday.

But they still do not know if the fire that began Saturday was an accident or was deliberately set. An investigation remained ongoing.

“We have concluded it was started by some humans,” said Brian Corvinus, the lead state arson investigator looking into the fire.

He said the origin of the blaze was pinpointed to a half-acre sandy spot deep in the woods “where people congregate to have illegal bonfires.”

Investigators have ruled out other potential causes, determining it was not caused by a controlled burning program that got out of hand, by lightning or by an electrical spark (there are no power lines anywhere nearby.)

By Monday, the fire had burned 18 square miles. The fire was 100% contained, meaning firefighters had established a defensible perimeter around it that should be sufficient to prevent spreading.

No one was hurt, no property was damaged, and there were no mandatory evacuations.

The blaze was spotted at 1:45 p.m. Saturday in the Penn State Forest in Woodland Township. Fanned by strong southwesterly winds gusting to 25 mph, the fire very quickly engulfed 30 acres and spread to the edge of Route 72, a major route through the Pinelands that had to be closed while the blaze was it its worst.

Firefighters set many small blazes called “backfires” around the edge of the main blaze to burn underbrush, pine needles and other flammable material that deprived fuel for it to spread. Burning embers from the blaze that floated in the air across Route 72 landed harmlessly in land that had already been scorched within the last few weeks during controlled burning programs carried out by the state.

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