Brush fire season in New Jersey is off to a hot start after last week's fire in Berkeley Township, and fire officials are counting on controlled burns to keep the flames tamed.

Smoke from a brush fire as seen from the Garden State Parkway in Clark
Toniann Antonelli, Townsquare Media NJ

Controlled burns -- intentional fires set to remove built-up dead vegetation, in an effort to prevent brush fires from gaining fuel -- are among the best methods of fire management.

However in New Jersey, state forest fire service crews can only conduct the burns on public land, and during a limited time frame between October and March.

"It's a very short window to get this done, and this year we only had 13 or 14 days and we got about 13,000 acres done," said Steven Holmes, assistant state fire warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

He said because of limited time, fire officials select the highest-risk locations.

"Local fire wardens know their area best and where the biggest threats are, and we try to take care of those areas first to protect the homes," Holmes said.

He suggests homeowners make sure to clear their property of any loose debris, dead grass, or firewood.

"We usually like to say one-and-a-half times the tree height is what you want between the wildland and your home," Holmes said.

Additionally, he said that clogged gutters, wooden sheds, and decks could also become fuel to a nearby brush fire.

"A lot of times, houses burn not from direct flame contact," Holmes said, "it's because of where all the embers go."

The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes offers wildfire prevention tips for residents:

  1. Identify nearby water sources, including hydrants, lakes, emergency storing tanks, pools.
  2. Remove fuels that can ignite from stray embers -- dead grass, leaves, etc. (fine fuels) and dead twigs, branches, etc. (coarse fuels) within 30 feet of buildings; dry leaf/pine litter from roofs, rain gutters, decks and walkways; dead and dry litter at the base of plants; tree branches (ladder fuels) within 6-10 feet of the ground; firewood within 30 feet of buildings; continuous beds of combustible vegetation (on the ground or in treetops) that can bring large flames within 100 feet of your home.
  3. Clean your gutters, eaves and roof to make sure they are clear of debris.
  4. Plant species that retain moisture and resist ignition, including native fire-resistant plants, and keep fire-prone trees and shrubs away from your home and separated far enough that they won't ignite.
  5. Make sure your street number is legible and clearly marked for emergency responders.
  6. Move any storage sheds including lawnmowers, grills, gas cans and tanks away from your home.
  7. Before a threat, landscape with fire-resistant, native plant species that retain moisture and resist ignition.
  8. Install metal screening that blocks embers from entering your buildings, including noncombustible 1/8 inch on attic/crawl space vents, and around low decks, and noncombustible (metal, etc.) skirting around mobile homes.
  9. Have a fire disaster plan including at least two predetermined evacuation routes, a NOAA Weather Radio and disaster kit for your family
  10. Follow any and all evacuation orders immediately.

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