Illegal campfire caused massive Wharton State Forest wildfire, officials say

Officials say a massive wildfire that has consumed a New Jersey state forest for more than three days was caused by an illegal campfire.

The blaze broke out at Wharton State Forest Sunday morning, quickly spreading from 50 to 13,500 acres as of Tuesday. Officials said it had the potential to become the "largest wildfire in the state of New Jersey in 15 years."

Firefighters are still battling to keep the fire under control. However, officials say it is now 95 percent contained, and are confident it will stay within their 15,175-acre containment area.

An illegal, unattended campfire has been determined as the cause of the wildfire after it was found near the origin of the wildfire, according to officials. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has launched an investigation into the campfire.

Spanning both Burlington and Atlantic counties, officials say the wildfire spread quickly due its remote position, extremely intense fire behavior and weather conditions.

The park, several campgrounds, hiking trails, roads and Batsto Village were evacuated and closed due to the fire:

  • Route 542 and 206 reopened Tuesday
  • Wharton State Forest Atsion Recreation Area and Batsto Village will reopen at 9 a.m. Wednesday
  • Hiking and biking trails between Atsion and Batsto remain closed
  • Kayaking and canoeing on the Mullica and Batsto rivers remain closed

No injuries were reported due to the fire, and officials say they were able to protect 18 threatened structures from any damage.

Smoke is likely to remain visible in the surrounding area for several days, and up to a week, according to officials. 

At least 75 firefighters, 22 engines and a helicopter remain on scene to patrol and mop-up the wildfire.