Home > Uncategorized > DEP’s Own Analysis Of The Dynamics Of The Wharton State Forest Wildfire Illustrates Why Their “Forest Thinning” And “Firebreak” Logging Plan Won’t Work

DEP’s Own Analysis Of The Dynamics Of The Wharton State Forest Wildfire Illustrates Why Their “Forest Thinning” And “Firebreak” Logging Plan Won’t Work

Extremely Dry Conditions, High Winds, And Wind Blown Embers Drove Wildfire

Cutting Trees Will Make All Those Conditions Worse

Mullica River Failed To Serve As Firebreak

The DEP held a video press briefing on June 21, 2022 on the Wharton State Forest wildfire this summer (watch the whole thing).

In that video, DEP Forest Fire Chief McLaughlin explained what drove the intensity and spread of the fire. (He starts at time 2:00):

Direct attack measures were not effective in containing the fire¬†because of extremely intense fire behavior, which resulted from very low humidity, unprecedented dew points, sustained winds at 23 mph with wind gusts up to 30 mph. This fire was sending burning embers causing spot fires long distances and this causes our resources to have to scatter about and try to track down these spot fires so that the fire doesn’t continue to grow larger. […]

Later in the afternoon and evening on Sunday, the fire turned with the wind and came back west across the Mullica River and stated to travel in a southwest – south direction towards Batsto Village. … With variable winds predicted for Monday and Tuesday, and possible sea breeze and change of wind direction to the south, then we became concerned that fire, which would continue to burn for several days, that it could change direction and move even to the north.

Let’s repeat the factors that drove the intensity of fire:

extremely intense fire behavior, which resulted from very low humidity, unprecedented dew points, sustained winds at 23 mph with wind gusts up to 30 mph. 

Let’s repeat what drove the spread of the fire:

This fire was sending burning embers causing spot fires long distances and this causes our resources to have to scatter about and try to track down these spot fires so that the fire doesn’t continue to grow larger.

Notice there is no mention of any ladder fuels as a factor in driving the fire.

Notice that there is no mention of excessive fuel loads or tree density as factors in the spread or direction or intensity of the fire.

The DEP’s Pinelands Forestry Plan is designed to cut and remove 2.4 million trees, which DEP claims are “ladder fuels” that allow the fire to spread and burn more intensely.

DEP claims that the forest is too dense (too high a fuel load) and that cutting these trees – which they call “forest thinning” – will result in fires that burn “low and slow”.

But by DEP’s own statements, it was extremely dry conditions, high winds, and blowing embers that drove the intensity, not “ladder fuels” or “fuel load”.¬†

Therefore, according to DEP’s own analysis, DEP’s forest thinning plan will not be effective in reducing the intensity or spread of wildfire.

Just the opposite: thinning the forest opens the canopy to sunlight, which dries out the forest vegetation, duff, and soils, which makes them MORE combustable and prone to wildfire.

Thinning the forest also makes the wind penetrate into the forest, which also dries the forest out and increases the winds acceleration of the fire, and the spread of the fire via wind blown embers.

Instead of “low and slow” wildfires DEP is creating conditions for more “hot and fast” wildfires.

Finally, DEP’s briefing noted that the Mullica River bisected the fire, but that the fire unexpectedly crossed the river, based on wind speed and direction and blowing embers.

If the Mullica River failed to serve as a “firebreak”, the DEP’s plan to clearcut along 13 miles of Pinelands roads surely won’t work as a firebreak either, particularly under extreme conditions: dry, high winds, wind blown embers.

I filed an OPRA public records request for DEP’s fire investigation and reports to DEP Commissioner LaTourette, as well as the facts that supported all the claims DEP made in this press briefing.

The would include how many acres of “backfires” DEP created.

We’ll provide a followup as soon as DEP responds.

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