WOODLAND -- The state's Forest Fire Service is burning low shrubs, leaves, pine needles and other debris as part of a seasonal program to reduce the risk of damaging wildfires.
The annual prescribed, or controlled, burn program might scorch as much as 20,000 acres this year. But officials said there are benefits beyond just reducing debris on forest floors that can fuel uncontrolled blazes.
Greg McLaughlin, of the Forest Fire Service, said the burn program actually helps to regenerate the forest.
"A lot of the trees in the Pinelands are fire dependent," McLaughlin said. "The cones won't open and release seeds unless they've gotten heat from fire."
The burns clear the forest floor and allows new seeds to take root, he said.
7 things to know about N.J. controlled burn program
McLaughlin also said the fires control insect populations, helps manage competing plant species and in general improves wildlife habitat.
The state plans to continue burns statewide through March as weather allows. South Jersey is particularly susceptible during peak fire season in New Jersey which runs from April through May.
If you see plumes of smoke and are wondering if it's under control or a real fire, you have some options to find out.
The NJ DEP provides notice of prescribed burns through its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/newjerseyforests. For more information about expected burns, call 609-292-2977.
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