Spring Fires at Higbee Beach 2017

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Cape May, NJ – The fire was burning red hot. There was a tall upward draft of smoke on the horizon.

At Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, the bright orange flames were engulfing several fields, turning the sky above a deep shade of gray.

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A casual onlooker might have thought it odd that firefighters nearby were just watching the fire progress.

As it turns out, the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service intentionally set fire to 40 acres of grasslands at Higbee this week as part of the state’s prescribed burning operations.

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The burning is meant to stop future wildfires by getting rid of possible tinder that could start an out of control blaze in the dry season.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says its part of a statewide effort to clear away the buildup of undergrowth, fallen branches and other debris on forest floors.

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The intentionally set fires usually take place from late November through mid to late March, depending on weather conditions.

So far this season, the Forest Fire Service has conducted prescribed burning operations on 12,000 acres of forests and grasslands statewide. Most of that burning has taken place in South Jersey, much of it in the Pinelands.

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Some birds actually benefit from the burning operations. Clearing a field of young tree saplings and other woody underbrush keeps the areas more inviting for some songbirds and for grassland nesting birds. Green grasses will replace the burnt out earth as early as this spring or summer.

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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak is a journalist, a gardener and a Cape Island resident. She's also Cape May Times' photographer. She founded Cape May Times after a long and lively career in TV news.