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Oaks burned, pines will regenerate

While the April 9 South Park Fire that devastated 1,000 acres is still under active investigation, forest fire officials said the fire killed some oak trees, and pines will likely replace them.

“Pines can survive the fire, the oaks can’t,” said John Rieth, division B assistant division forest fire warden with the State Forest Fire Service. “That’s why the Pine Barrens are really a fire ecosystem. Pines will always regenerate.

Oaks grow taller than pine trees, he said.

Some sections of the damaged areas were filled with pines, he said.

Dead oak trees in the area, however, added fuel to the fire due to a gyspy moth infestation this year, Rieth said.

“The dead trees are more susceptible to the fire,” he said. “Anything that’s dead is adding to the fuel load.”

Invasive insect species are a big concern in the spread of wildfires, he said.

In recent years, the Asian long-horned beetle, pine loopers and the Southern Pine Beetle have also hit the area.

“These things come and go,” he said. “When they come, the quicker the authorities know about them, the quicker they can take some action.”

If residents see damage to trees, it is recommended they call the State Forestry Services or another organization or service such as a shade tree commission to alert them of the potential danger.

“Those folks are very knowledgeable,” he said. “They might be able to take action.”

The South Park Fire was the only significant wildfire in the area, he said. Crews have been periodically checking the area to make sure everything is OK.

All trucks are manned, said Rieth.

Early detection and rapid response have helped stop other fires from spreading in recent days, he said.

Fire towers in Forked River and Barnegat detected smoke before anyone called 9–1–1, he said.

Officials in the Lebanon tower noticed smoke coming from Woodland Township before anyone contacted authorities, too.

“You don’t have to have a big fire to damage people’s homes,” Rieth said. “All fires start small.”

This time of the year is prime fire season, he said — from March until May, specifically.

With conditions drier than usual, the threat is greater.

Because of the elevated risk, the forest fire service is banning all campfires and restricting agricultural burning for almost all occasions, he said.

“If it’s not in a forested section, we may make an exception,” Rieth said.

Rieth also said to “avoid being careless.”

Many people toss cigarettes out their car windows or dump ashes from their wood-burning stoves in backyards, he said.

“The ashes are still hot,” he said.

Make the ashes wet first, he suggested, “then you don’t have to worry about that.”

Until significant rain soaks the ground, the bans will remain in effect, he said.

To learn more about local forest fires and what to do to avoid starting one, contact the State Forest Fire Service Division B at (609) 726–9010.

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