A massive wildfire at Wharton State Forest in South Jersey has impacted at least 2,100 acres of land across Washington, Shamong, Hammonton and Mullica Townships and is only 20% contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said late Sunday night.
Officials assured residents on Sunday that there have been no reported injuries, and surrounding areas have been evacuated. Batsto Village and all nearby hiking and biking trails are closed to visitors.
Six structures throughout the forest are at risk of collapsing, and structure protection is in place at Batsto Village and Paradise Lake Campground, provided by volunteer firefighters from Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties. The next update from the Forest Fire Service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Monday, officials said.
The flames began on Sunday in a largely remote section of the forest, along Mullica River. The Forest Fire Service began its backfiring response in an effort to control the blaze shortly after noon on Sunday. Officials closed portions of Route 206 and Route 542 in order to keep the area fully evacuated.
WILDFIRE UPDATE: Wharton State Forest – Mullica River Fire@njdepforestfire continues to fight a wildfire fueled by dry and breezy conditions in Wharton State Forest – Washington, Shamong, Hammonton & Mullica Townships- which has reached 2,100 acres in size and is 20% contained. pic.twitter.com/6W1iAZNnyZ
— New Jersey Forest Fire Service (@njdepforestfire) June 20, 2022
Wharton State Forest is New Jersey’s largest state park, occupying 122,880 acres of pine forest, lakes and rivers in the Pinelands National Reserve in Burlington and Atlantic counties. An average of 1,500 acres of state forest land is destroyed by spontaneous fire each year, the Forest Fire Service told NJ.com.
Officials say that wildfires are considered “major” when they impacted or consume more than 100 acres of land. It is currently unclear whether fire crews have managed to contain the blaze any further overnight, but smoke was still prominent in the areas surrounding the state park.
Pinelands Adventures has ceased operations until further notice, and Paradise Lakes Campgrounds has been fully evacuated. Officials reminded residents not to fly drones over the fire area, as it interferes with ongoing backfire operations.
Just after midnight on Monday, the National Weather Service noted that the smoke from the Wharton State Forest fire was showing up on its radar. Visibility at Atlantic City International Airport was below 2 miles at 12:37 a.m., and the NWS urged people traveling overnight to be cautious of obstructed views.
Washington Twp Burlington Co: New Jersey Forest Fire Service with Fire Crews from Burlington and Atlantic Counties are battling a wildfire in a remote section of Wharton State Forest. BeAlert pic.twitter.com/66eOjOD4p1
— First Responder 🚨 🚨 (@911__ICE) June 19, 2022
This story is developing. Check back here for updates.