Monday, May 22, 2017

Warren Grove Fire (Burlington/Ocean Counties NJ) - ten years later

It was ten years ago this past week that a F-16 military jet on a training mission on May 15, 2007 dropped a flare on the Warren Grove Gunnery Range from too low an altitude. The flare did not burn out, hit the ground and sparked a wildfire in the New Jersey Pine Barrens that eventually grew to 17,270 acre Warren Grove Fire.

The rains came the evening of May 16, 2007, see PineyPower’s May 16th, 6:50 PM blog entry (scroll down a bit). I’m not quite sure when the fire was contained, probably a few days later. The B10 NJ Wildland Fire Page posted the following on the bottom of their main page last week:
Section B4 Wildfire Anniversary
The 17,270 acre 'Warren Grove Wildfire', Barnegat, started on May 15-22, 2007
1 home destroyed, over 20 structures damaged.
Flares dropped from an F-16 belonging to the 177th Fighter Wing set off this large wildfire that consumed more than 17,000 acres (73 km²) of the Pinelands and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.This fire burned through the following towns: Barnegat Twp, Bass River Twp, Eagleswood Twp, Little Egg Harbor Twp and Stafford Twp (accessed on May 19, 2017 from

Judy Smestad-Nunn reported on a Wildfire Safety Council meeting in Barnegat Township, NJ on May 11, 2017 for Micromedia Publications - Ocean County. Among the main purpose of the meeting was the tenth anniversary of the Warren Grove Fire. Among those present at the meeting where representatives from the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard. The 177th Fighter Wing accepted responsibility for the Warren Grove Fire. I know that the 177th Wing was involved in an investigation of the fire, unfortunately that report is no longer available on the internet. While the NJFFS reached out to representatives of the 177th Wing to alert them to high fire danger on May 15, 2007, it seems that the fire danger warning was never transmitted to the pilots. A F-16 dropped a live flare from too low an altitude, the flare did not burn out in time and the Warren Grove fire was born. The 177th Wing and the Warren Grove Gunnery Range have made changes in the hope that a fire like the 2007 Warren Grove Fire never happens again:
Major Still, who is a pilot for the NJ National Guard, said the range was shut down for a year and a half afterwards, and new leadership was put into place to make sure it didn’t happen again. 
‘We don’t drop flares, there are no pyrotechnics, and every user who flies on the range takes a test explaining the rules,’ he said. Pilots also have to take a fire test, Major Still added. 
The Guard has instituted a fire response plan, and in the event of a fire they would get involved more quickly, he said. 
Master Sergeant Michael Mimler said a lot of what was done to reopen the range has become a national standard. 
'We communicate with local fire services. We have fire check-ins, and a lot of other ranges are doing the same thing,' he said. A lot of great things have come out of this for communities across the country’ (obtained on May 20, 2017 from

Improvements in communications among neighboring towns, evacuation plans, and Firewise Communities which encourages and helps resident to do what they can to mitigate the risk of wildfire damage to their home and property. I wrote about fire and fuel breaks built after the Warren Grove Fire in October 2011.

The Asbury Park Press wrote a good article on the 10th anniversary of the Warren Grove Fire and lessons learned including more information on the Barnegat Wildfire Safety Council, one of the first towns to have such a council. Among the issues that the Barnegat Wildfire Safety Council works on are what the town and her residents can do to lessen the risk of wildfires. The APP article may be found here.

Before closing, I want to spend a little time on Firewise Communities. According to a brochure on Firewise Communities that I got from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service a few years ago Firewise Communities play an important role in wildfire suppression efforts:
When a large, fast-spreading wildfire occurs, firefighters may not have the resources to defend every home that becomes threatened. Communities whose residents take proactive steps to reduce their vulnerability have a greater probability of withstanding a wildfire and reducing damage and loss. Prepared communities became part of the suppression efforts and not part of the problem in controlling a growing wildfire (I am unable to find this brochure on Firewise Communities in NJ online).
To learn more about Firewise communities you might want to start by reading this brochure, Adopting Firewise Communities/USA: People Working Together . Firewise frequently asked questions may be found at Firewise FAQs  , and finally there is a Firewise Toolkit.

New Jersey’s first Firewise Community was Hardwick Township (Sussex County) in 2004 with Stillwater and Medford becoming Firewise Communities in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Barnegat, which was impacted by the Warren Grove Fire became a Firewise Community in 2008.  New Jersey currently has 14 Firewise Communities. See this list of Firewise Communities in the United States  or view the Firewise Communities interactive map of Firewise communities in the U.S. A list of Firewise State Liaisons may be found here. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has a Firewise page. and you may learn more becoming a recognized fire wise community in New Jersey here.

No comments: