Firebreaks Permit Requirement in Southern New Jersey Sparks Concern

November 14, 2017

Some New Jersey residents are expressing concerns about a proposed change they fear could hamper creation of firebreaks in the New Jersey Pinelands.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Pinelands Commission is considering changes to its comprehensive management plan requiring permits for construction and maintenance of any firebreak over six feet wide.

Bill Brash, president of the New Jersey Fire Safety Council, a Freehold-based nonprofit, says that could slow down the firebreak process with red tape. He said there are “literally thousands of miles of firebreaks in the Pinelands” – most of them more than 6 feet wide, and the proposed amendment would require a permit for nearly all of them.

Brash said firebreaks help keep wildfires from spreading by removing “ladder fuels,” such as shrubs and low-hanging branches, and they also help in management of controlled burns.

“In some cases, these firebreaks are ultimately the only thing between us and our homes and these fires,” said Moira Flynn, 66, a 17-year Mirage resident.

There have been hundreds of fires since the early 1900s in the dense, mostly uninhabited forest that spans parts of seven southern New Jersey counties. Only two have burned more than 150,000 aces, but a 1963 blaze burned 190,000 acres, killed seven people and destroyed 400 properties.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Forest Fire Service, declined comment beyond saying it is reviewing the proposal.

Commission executive director Nancy Wittenberg said the panel will accept written comment from the public until Nov. 17.

“When we looked at the plan, we realized we didn’t even have a clear definition of what a firebreak is,” said Wittenberg, adding that clear definitions on that and other matters were needed.

Getting such a permit would probably take about 30 days, although in an emergency firefighters would be allowed to create the barriers without prior permission, Wittenberg said.

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