A wind-whipped wildfire that started Sunday in Wharton State Forest has consumed more than 11,000 acres and continues to burn late Monday afternoon.

Backfire operations helped contain 45% of the fire by 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning. The percentage controlled increased to 50% by mid afternoon.

The area damaged by fire is now more than the land area of Jersey City or Sayreville or West Deptford.

The fire is expected to burn 15,000 acres, making it the biggest wildfire in the state in 15 years. Officials expect to fully contain the fire as soon as Tuesday morning or as late as Wednesday.

About 60 firefighters are battling the blaze along with helicopters equipped to dump 325 gallons of water at a time.

Smoke from a wIldfire in Wharton State Forest seen from Route 206 near Chew Road 6/19/22
Smoke from a wIldfire in Wharton State Forest seen from Route 206 near Chew Road 6/19/22 (Kathi Gratton)
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A natural cause of the fire has been ruled out but it remains under investigation whether it was intentionally set

Fire crews are burning vegetation to counteract the fire and protect Paradise Campground.

About 50 people have been evacuated, mostly campers and visitors.

Route 206 and 542 remained closed in the area.

Nancy Lumberton
Nancy Lumberton
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Fire started Sunday

The fire started early Sunday afternoon in a remote area of the forest along the Mullica River, according to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

The size of the fire grew to 600 acres by early Sunday evening in Washington, Shamong Hammonton and Mullica townships. Dry and breezy conditions helped fuel the fire and tripled its size to 2,100 acres by 11 p.m.

The Forest Fire Service said 7,200 acres were burned as of 10:30 a.m. Monday.

The number of structures threatened by the fire increased to 18 in the Paradise Lakes Campground and the surrounding area.  Fire companies are also protecting structures at Batsto Village.

Winds out of the northwest have pushed smoke and haze over South Jersey, especially Atlantic County, according to New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow.

Radar image on Sunday afternoon of the Wharton State Forest wildfire
Radar image on Sunday afternoon of the Wharton State Forest wildfire (Radarscope)
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Fire seen from space

Radar was showing the smoke plume prominently Sunday afternoon but not on Monday, according to Zarrow.

"The air is still ridiculously dry, which contributes to high fire danger," Zarrow said. "Winds Monday will be much lighter than over the weekend, which will help firefighting efforts. What we could really use right now is a good soaking rain, which won't arrive until tomorrow night at the earliest."

attachment-Roger Milville
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Road closures, disruptions

The fire has led to the closure of Route 206 between Chew Road to Stokes Road in Hammonton and Route 542 from Green Bank Road to Columbia Road in Egg Harbor City.

Pinelands Adventures has suspended kayak and canoe trips. Batsto Village has also closed its hiking and mountain bike trails. The Mullica River trail and boat launch is also closed because of the fire.

The Atsion Recreation Area, Mullica River Campground and Lower Forde Campground were also closed on Monday.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions: