A potent combination of dry conditions and high winds helped to whip up a second major brush fire in southern New Jersey in the last three days, this time engulfing several hundred acres in Burlington County and threatening two dozen homes.
The blaze began before 1 a.m. in the towns of Tabernacle and Woodland, and by midmorning had extended across 600 acres. State officials expected the fire to consume 1,000 acres before it was finished.
“When I got up this morning it looked really horrible, looked like it was coming toward us, but fortunately it stopped,” said Constantin Alimonos, who owns a vineyard in the area. “It looked like hell.”
About 25 homes were considered threatened by the fire, and firefighters lit a backfire in an attempt to keep the blaze away, said assistant state Fire Warden Steve Maurer. By late morning about 10 percent of the fire had been contained and none of the homes had been damaged, Maurer said.
This is the second major brush fire in southern New Jersey in less than a week. Last week fires burned 400 acres in Winslow Township, about 20 miles southwest of Monday’s blaze. Officials have said those likely were set deliberately.
Other fires during the weekend destroyed buildings across the state, from the shore (Beach Haven) to the northern (Wantage) and northeast. Two people were killed in a house fire in Florence Township, Burlington County, early Sunday.
The cause of Monday’s fire was unknown pending further investigation, but Maurer said brush fires are not unusual for this time of year. He said the unusually dry weather during the last several weeks combined with high winds gusting above 40 mph helped the fire spread rapidly.
“It can be warm and dry if there’s no wind and the likelihood of a large fire is very small,” Maurer said. “But when you throw wind into the equation, all bets are off.”
Nancy McGinnis, who owns a deli near the area affected by the fire, said fires aren’t uncommon in the rural area.
“This kind of thing happens every year around here,” she said. “But I still worry because I have some customers who might have to evacuate. It’s very scary.”
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