New Jersey wildfire chars nearly 3,900 acres, forcing evacuations

The Jimmy’s Waterhole Fire in Ocean County prompted the evacuation of 170 homes.


New Jersey firefighters got the upper hand Wednesday on a blaze that has charred nearly 3,900 wooded acres and forced the evacuation of 170 homes, authorities said.

The Jimmy’s Waterhole Fire in Ocean County started Tuesday and was 60% contained by late Wednesday afternoon, New Jersey Forest Fire Service Chief Greg McLaughlin told reporters in Whiting, about 50 miles north of the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Firefighters have circled the blaze, which has burned 3,859 acres, and hope it won't get much larger.

"The synopsis for today is to continue to improve and reinforce the control lines and continue to mop up," Forest Fire Service Assistant Warden Trevor Raynor said.

A forest fire in Ocean County, N.J., on Wednesday.NBC Philadelphia

With warm and dry weather forecast for the next several days, firefighters want to snuff out the blaze so they can be ready to battle the next one.

"We've seen fires starting earlier in the season this year," McLaughlin said. "Where we would typically see fires peaking in April, we're starting to see fires starting to peak at the end of March and today, yesterday, in early April, as well."

Regional temperatures tend to hover around the low 60s in mid-April. But the high is expected to reach 80 degrees Wednesday afternoon, up from 74 on Tuesday.

“So today is probably a worse fire day than it was yesterday, so we’re looking to wrap this fire up quickly and safely ... so that we’re ready for the next wildfire,” Raynor said.

About 70 homes in Manchester Township and 100 more in nearby Lakehurst had to be evacuated, but all of those structures appeared to be safe by Wednesday morning.

"The structure protection units for the fire companies did an outstanding job," Manchester Police Chief Robert Dolan said.

"They did a great job of protecting those homes. So without those efforts ... it could have been a lot worse."

The blaze ignited near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and winds helped push some flames onto the installation. But there had been no damage as of Wednesday morning, officials said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

"Whether we actually are able to determine a cause or not is still to be determined. But keep in mind that approximately 99% of wildfires are human-caused, whether that's accidental or intentional," McLaughlin said.

"So we'll continue to look into it. In terms of evacuations today, we're confident that we have a good handle on this fire, and so we're not requiting any additional mandatory evacuations."