Mullica River Fire: Wildfire in Wharton State Forest reaches 13,500 acres in size in Burlington County, New Jersey

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WASHINGTON TWP., New Jersey (WPVI) — The wildfire at Wharton State Forest in Burlington County, New Jersey, now called the Mullica River Fire, is 85% contained.

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service said Tuesday morning that crews continue to make “substantial progress in containing the wildfire.”

The fire has reached 13,500 acres in size, officials said.

It is now the largest fire in the state since 2007.

It’s projected the forest fire could eventually reach 15,000 acres; the Spring Hill wildfire in 2019 burned more than 11,600 acres.

Route 206 and Route 542 have reopened as of Tuesday morning.

“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.

But, officials fell short of saying someone intentionally set the Wharton State Forest on fire.

“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.

The fire stretches through Washington, Shamong, Hammonton and Mullica townships.

Full containment of the fire is expected by Wednesday.

The impacts of the wildfire could be felt at the Jersey shore.

“I thought it was fog at first, but then I started to notice the smell and I knew it wasn’t fog,” said Alicia Washington of Atlantic City.

Residents are urged to take proper precautions.

“It’s not a time to take any chances with the amount of smoke that we’ve all been seeing,” said Dr. Amit Borah, an interventional pulmonologist at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. “Stay away from the heat, that thermal injury, that hot, hot air, that hot, hot smoke — that’s the thing that will do even someone with healthy lungs in.”
No injuries have been reported and no homes are in danger, but 18 structures were threatened, including a blueberry farm and the Paradise Lake Campground where some were evacuated.

“It’s been a really long time since I actually saw fire whirls on a fire, and yesterday I saw several of them. That’s extreme fire intensity,” said McLaughlin.

Batsto Village, Atsion Recreation Area and all associated hiking and mountain bike trails remain closed to visitors.

The Mullica River Campground and Lower Forge Campground are closed.

Kayak and canoe launching along the Mullica River is closed from the Atsion Recreation Area to Batsto Village.

These closures will remain in effect until further notice.

Pinelands Adventures has suspended kayak and canoe trips.

Officials said 18 structures are threatened. There are no reported injuries.

“Motorists traveling in the area should remain cautious of smoke and watch for firefighters and fire vehicles that may be working on nearby roadways. Smoke impacts will remain elevated into the evening hours as winds diminish, and partial cloud cover moves over the area,” the forest service said.

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