The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, is a heavily forested area of pitch pines located in southern New Jersey, covering 1.1 million acres. It is estimated that 46% of homes in New Jersey are located in the Wildland Urban Interface. It is also one of the main areas in the United States having a very high wildland fire risk potential.
Image 1: New Jersey Wildland Fire Risk Potential Map. Click here to learn more about how this wildland fire potential rating was developed.
Prescribed fire has long been a useful tool of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) in managing land to prevent and minimize loss from wildfire. Over 15,000 acres are burned annually. The NJFFS also works with communities to implement Firewise practices. Most Firewise projects initiated by at risk communities are focused on creating wide fuel breaks of at least 100 feet around the perimeter of these communities, often bordering along existing roadways.
Currently there are eleven recognized Firewise Communities and New Jersey ranks in the top five in the Firewise Challenge. It is expected that several other communities, including Country Walk, Victoria and Holly Lake, will be recognized by the end of the year.
On June 24th a Barnegat Township Community meeting was held, organized by Greg McLaughlin, NJFFS Division Fire Warden and John Cowie, Barnegat Fire Co., Trustee, Ready, Set, Go! Chairperson and NJFFS District Fire Warden. Barnegat Volunteer Fire Company was selected as an initial pilot fire company for the Ready, Set, Go! Program in 2010-11.
While this meeting primarily focused on Barnegat Township, residents from other Firewise Communities outside the township and from potential Firewise communities also attended, including Pine Ridge Estates and Little Egg Harbor Township. Efforts are underway to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for Little Egg Harbor Township. As part of the CWPP all potential Firewise Communities have been identified within the township and introduction of the Ready, Set, Go! Program to the local fire companies is being explored.
Lucian Deaton, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Ready, Set, Go! (RSG) Program Manager, opened the meeting, followed by Maureen Brooks, US Forest Service (USFS) Community Fire Planner outlined the Firewise Communities program and RSG under the umbrella of Fire Adapted Communities. Her presentation led to an open discussion of the roles and responsibilities of each participant - New Jersey Forest Fire Service, USFS, RSG, Barnegat Fire Company, Barnegat Township, Office of Emergency Management and the Barnegat Police.
Those attending the meeting overwhelmingly agreed that continued participation in Firewise and Ready, Set, Go! was essential, especially during seasons when wildfires are down, to allow for pre-planning and preparedness. New residents were enthusiastic about their communities taking steps to becoming recognized. Several residents approached their local Fire Warden to set up onsite meetings.
Most importantly, everyone agreed that the meeting could provide a model for presentation of Fire Adapted Communities concepts to other municipalities throughout New Jersey.