Natural Causes Ruled Out in Wharton State Forest Fire
Fire officials said Monday they have ruled out natural causes in connection with the wildfire that has burned over 12,000 acres in the Wharton State Forest, which has been dubbed the Mullica River Fire.
As of Monday night, the fire was 70% contained, according to officials who said they made "substantial progress" in efforts to contain the blaze Monday.
While fire officials did not say the blaze was intentionally set, they did indicate some human responsibility, according to the Washington Post.
"We have essentially ruled out natural causes and so we'll continue to investigate the fire," Gregory McLaughlin, chief and state fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, said during a Monday afternoon press conference.
"Illegal campfires and fires that aren't fully extinguished continue to pose a great risk," said Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
LaTourette did not say whether investigators had determined a cause but said he was speaking generally on issues, including campfire maintenance and other activities that are typically the cause of man-made fires.
"We could see in this incident the largest wildfire in the state of New Jersey in 15 years."
The NJ Department of Environmental Protection issued a Code Orange Air Quality Alert Monday for Atlantic and Cape May counties, including towns like Wildwood Crest, which is 50 miles away from the Wharton State Forest fire. The alert advised those in sensitive groups, including anyone with heart and lung issues of "fine particles" in the air.
Townsquare Media Meteorologist Dan Zarrow says a shift to a southerly direction in wind direction Tuesday will bring some relief to the smoke and haze over southern New Jersey. The smoke may become more of a concern for central New Jersey today.
The fire is expected to be fully contained by today.