Fire Risk at Watchung Reservation Low
Despite raging fires in California, wet weather in New Jersey quells fire risk this season.
Every summer it seems wildfires in California are making headlines. But Dan Bernier, director of the Union County division of park planning and environmental services, said what people need to realize is wildfires can occur in New Jersey, too.
“It can still definitely happen here,” he said. “We would certainly caution people with their fires or their litter.”
While Bernier recalled several small fires at the Watching Reservation the last few years, caused mostly by a combination of dry leaf litter covering the ground and glass bottles or cigarettes left behind by humans, this season has not been particularly worrisome for fires.
“It is an issue from time to time but it has not been an issue this summer,” he said.
The spring is the most dangerous time of year, he said, because the leaf litter is dry from being covered up all winter. Fire risk is monitored by the state forest fire service and when the fire risk changes, county park officials are notified.
Reservation officials will notify visitors to the fire risk through Smokey the Bear signs upon entrance to the park. Bernier said Watchung typically gets brush fires, not forest fires and they have most often occurred at the Scotch Plains end of the park and the grass fields near the Deserted Village.
“In those cases they were minor,” he said.
The difference between fires in California and here in the Garden State, Bernier said, is mostly the type of trees growing here. In both California and in the Pine Barrens where most fires in New Jersey occur, coniferous trees are common. These trees have dry needles which accumulate on the ground and can also easily ignite once a fire is burning.
“Setting a green, deciduous tree on fire is pretty difficult,” he said.
When the fire risk is elevated, park officials may be forced to limit fire activities at Watching, including limiting or restricting charcoal grills.
In case of a fire, Bernier said the county police and office of emergency management, as well as local fire departments, are responding to the call.
“So you know if a fire does start it’s going to be dealt with quickly and properly,” he said.