Last week marked the 10th anniversary of southern New Jersey’s Warren Grove Fire that burned 17,000 acres and caused the evacuations of several communities in Barnegat and Stafford townships. The fire originated on an Air National Guard Range when an F-16 mistakenly dropped a flare at a low altitude. The resulting wildfire spread across the densely forested Pine Barrens region and responders got a controlling hands when a thunderstorm rolled through two days later.
Our friend, John Cowie, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and past president of the Barnegat Volunteer Fire Company, #1, shared his reflections with me on the wildire and how, 10 years later, strong coordinated efforts are underway to make a difference in the wildland-urban interface across the state.
“I think the 2007 Warren Grove Bombing Range Fire was a wake-up call for local Municipalities and Residents,” John remarked. “Unfortunately, there is a misconception in our area and possibly on the east coast that wildfire is an out-west problem. It's not. We have fires every year but they don't impact as many people as this one did.”
“Since the fire, The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has been working to build safer communities with local partners through CWPP's, Firewise, and Ready, Set, Go!. Partnerships between every level of a community are invaluable during a major incident [and] this has all come together in Barnegat Township through the FAC Learning Network and fire adapted communities.”
The 2007 fire has also defined the future focus for wildfire preparedness in New Jersey. John explained that, “We are now working on building capacity to grow these programs throughout New Jersey. Our goal is to make people aware of our problem and to protect lives and property."
This is leading to innovative approaches for the state. John shared that, “Bill Brash, a leader in Wildfire safety in New Jersey, has started the NJ Fire Safety Council. The newly formed [council] worked with Sustainable Jersey to incorporate CWPP's, Firewise, RSG and Municipal Fire safety councils as Sustainable Jersey actions. The points acquired through these actions can translate into level designations and grants."
Looking to their next steps, John highlighted that, “Our goal is to make these programs not only sustainable themselves but also to build capacity to further the wildfire message in New Jersey. The NJFSC is also working on grant funding for outreach and mitigation efforts state wide."
Giving a final reflection on the fire, John shared that, “I guess you can say that out of something so bad 10 years ago, good things have been brought forth to address the problem. From my perspective it is great to see communities working together to build these partnerships that will one day help to save lives and property.”
We are thankful to John and the great work of the New Jersey Forest Fire Services in advancing Firewise in the state and empowering residents to better prepare themselves for wildfire.