On Sunday, Worthington State Forest in New Jersey went up in flames. Worthington State Forest is on the “Jersey side” of the Delaware Water Gap and is home to Mount Tammany, where the brush fire claimed more than 80 acres overnight.
The cause of the brush fire, which started in the afternoon, has not yet been determined as of Tuesday. The New Jersey Herald reported that the fire was fueled by leaf litter and “dead and down fuel,” and dead hardwoods, which were killed by gypsy moth caterpillars. Officials cited that the mountain side is typically covered by at least two feet of snow this time of year.
In Pennsylvania, our wildfire season begins in March and lasts until May, before the risk rises again in the fall.
In 2016, The 16-Mile Fire and the Beartown Fire consumed 8,000 acres on the Monroe and Pike county line, raging for two weeks straight and causing damage to residential properties and roads in the northern part of the Poconos. Officials suspected arson in that case.
Dry fields likely fueled the spread of the 2016 fires, which burned from April and into May, despite rainfall.
While December was one of the Poconos’ wettest in history, with just over 9.4 inches of precipitation, 2020 has been off to a dry start.
In the Poconos, a mild winter is a mixed— and sometimes dangerous — bag.
January and February have so far received only half of the Pocono’s average precipitation for this time of year, and while a mild winter in the Poconos doesn’t always mean a bad one, this dry period could spell some concerns going into spring.
While the ground has reaped the benefits of deeper moisture due to the wet December, drier surface area thanks to our recent dry spell can leave the Poconos prone to brush fires if we aren’t careful.
According to Pocono weather expert and meteorologist Ben Gelber, less moisture at the surface makes for prime kindling. Typically, all that’s needed is a well-positioned lightning strike to ignite a forest. As we head into an “early” spring, warmer temperatures may contribute to a fire’s spread.
But Gelber says don’t count out human carelessness — brush fires that aren’t sparked by lightning can almost always be attributed to human activity. Something as small as a spark from a wheel or barbecue can cause major damage. Then there’s also the potential of individuals sparking a fire — on purpose.
As the weather gets warmer in March and April, more people are likely to get out and enjoy what the Poconos has to offer, and with that comes the potential for accidental sparks. Gelber noted that areas in the Poconos could be prone to brush fire this spring should the dry spell continue.
A wise bear once said: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
— The Pocono Record