Evacuation orders have been lifted now that a forest fire in southern New Jersey is 60% contained, fire officials announced Wednesday.
More than 3,800 acres have burned in the fire that started in Manchester Township, though it's unclear how the fire started, officials said.
The fire, which began Tuesday afternoon, came as record heat sets in across the Northeast.
This single fire has burned more than half the average acres burned in New Jersey in an entire year, according to statistics from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
The Jimmy's Waterhole Fire was 60% contained and had burned 3,859 acres as of Wednesday afternoon, officials said. It was just 500 acres at 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
About 170 structures in the Manchester Township area were evacuated Tuesday night, but all residents have since been allowed to return home, Manchester Police Chief Robert Dolan said during a news conference Wednesday.
"The cause is still being investigated and we have teams out investigating today. So, no determination on that as it remains under investigation," Gregory McLaughlin, chief of the state Forest Fire Service said Wednesday.
He said officials plan to see if they can find out if they can find a source or origination point for the fire.
No structures are damaged and no injuries have been reported, officials said, but firefighters have faced "extreme fire behavior," said John Cecil, the assistant commissioner of state parks, forests and historic sites at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
"We saw a wall of fire, 200-foot flames, raining fire embers. I don't mean to be dramatic, but this was a severe situation that these guys and gals managed to keep in place and protect lives and property. And for that, we cannot thank them enough," Cecil said.
The fire was primarily burning on federal, state and private property in Manchester Township, but it had jumped to the adjacent borough of Lakehurst.
McLaughlin warned that the state is under an enhance weather watch on Wednesday and likely on Thursday.
"We have seen fires from the beginning of this year on the increase as compared to last year. And we have seen fires starting earlier in the season this year where we typically see fires peaking in April," McLaughlin said.
"So as long as the weather conditions with low humidity and dusty winds, today winds are dusting up 23 miles per hour... if a fire starts, it's potential to spread quickly."
Record heat will make fire conditions even worse
Summerlike temperatures are expected to last through Friday, with more than 25 potential high records falling.
"We've been under high pressure the past couple of days. This is drying out the 'fuels' (dry brushland, dead leaves etc.). We should stay under high pressure for the next day," Cameron Wunderlin, National Weather Service meteorologist in Mount Holly, New Jersey, told CNN. "Relative humidity drops very low with this flow around the high and all the ingredients are there for the fire weather concerns."
The record heat will only make fire conditions worse during the week, as temperatures soar into the mid-80s across New Jersey and other parts of the Northeast along the I-95 corridor.
Overnight temperatures will also remain high, which will create challenging conditions for firefighters. Nighttime temperatures will only drop to the low 60s or upper 50s, which won't allow for much recovery overnight.
"Relative humidity is calculated by temperature and the amount of moisture," Wunderlin said. "So if you have record highs and low humidity, the relative humidity will drop below the 30% threshold that we look for extreme fire behavior."
Places like New York City, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and even Philadelphia could break records Friday with temperatures expected to top out in the mid-80s.
Springfield, Massachusetts, could shatter its previous record of 77 by nearly 10 degrees if it hits the forecast high of 86 on Friday.
Winds will remain a factor as sustained winds are expected to stay around 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.
April is considered peak fire season for New Jersey. The state has seen other large fires in recent years, including one just last year that scored more than 13,000 acres. The fire in 2022 was roughly 50 miles from where the current fire is burning.
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