Forest Fires In New Jersey – An Evil Which the State Seeks to Remedy by Legislation – Sept 17, 1894

TRENTON, N.J., Sept 16. – New Jersey has just reason to be alarmed about forest fires, for she now has 1,300,000 acres of land remaining in forests in what is known as the pine country, which embraces Salem, Cumberland, Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Burlington Counties.

The wildest part of the Jersey woodland is divided into pine-land tracts. These tracts are as follows: Hominy Hill, 9,000 acres; Manasquan River, 17,000; Metedeconk River, 19,000; North Branch Toms River, 7,000; Toms River, 60,000; Fort River and Rancocas, 80,000; Burlington Plains, 172,000; Atsion River, 63,000; Great Egg Harbor River, 30,000; Maurice River, 26,000 ; Salem Barrens, 3,000, making an area of 346,000. Deducting this from the total area, leaves 1,300,300 acres fit for tillage, of which more than 500,000 acres still remain in forests.

The State Geologist has assigned to John Gliford of Mays Landing the task of makthg a special study of the pine country, with a view of devising schemes, not only for the preservation of the forests, but for turning considerable [parts – ED] of the area into tillage land and preventing forest fires. The results of his investigations have been the production of a large amount of useful information and the beginning of an organization especially for the preservation of forests.

Mr. Gifford contends that the woodman’s great enemy is the forest fire. He has had during the past few months ample opportunity to study for himself the ravages from this cause, because forest fires have extended well around the pine belt of West Jersey, destroying thousands upon thousands of dollars’ worth of property, and some of the fires would have been raging yet were it not for the recent heavy rains. The damage will go up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because not only woodland was destroyed but many of the small stopping points of three or four houses were wiped out of existence.

One of the most notable landmarks of South Jersey was consumed ten days ago while the fires were raging in the upper part of Atlantic County. It was Doughty’s Tavern, off from Buena Vesta, which has been for half a century the favorite abiding place of sportsmen in quest of deer, quail, grouse, and pheasant. Cranberry bogs, to the value of $75,000, were destroyed, which bad the effect of making the New Jersey crop exceedingly short and defeating the cranberry growers in their new scheme of making a liberal shipment to England, where last year the cranberry was introduced under favorable circumstances.

Mr. Gifford says that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business, and, in consequence, there is no united action in either the prevention or the fighting of forest fires. When a fire is discovered, a few men come to the rescue of the property owner. Forest fires, he contends, start in the following ways: First, by railroads; second, through malice, and third, by carelessness. There is no doubt that locomotives going through the pine land are responsible for many conflagrations. It became incumbent upon the railroads to use spark arresters on the smokestacks of the engines, and by having places especially prepared for the dumping of hot coals, and also in having each side of the track well plowed. The engineers, however, frequently become careless and remove the spark arrester or dump live coals wherever they please.

At the present term of the Atlantic County Court there are a number of suits which are brought by ten prominent land owners of Galloway Township against the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad for fires started by sparks from locomotives, which destroyed great quantities of timber. Much interest is being taken in these suits, because they are test cases.

The woods are frequently set on fire by spiteful men, who either have a grudge against the land owner, or burn another man’s property to increase the value of their own. Two of the most destructive fires In South Jersey this Summer were caused by a careless man burning brush, and another man “getting square” with a neighbor by the use of a torch at midnight Tramps and gunners, as well as other persons trespassing in the woods, and especially boys, throw matches carelessly about or drop a lighted cigar stump into dry leaves.

The South Jersey Woodmen’s Association is now being organized. Its objects, as declared by the prospectus, are to improve and prçtect the forests of the southern counties of New-Jersey; to prevent all wanton and needless destruction of forests; to adopt such methods of cutting as will increase and prolong the yield of timber and coalwood; to insist upon the enforcement of laws in relation to forests, and the punishment of malicious and careless fire setters; to encourage the planting and growing of valuable trees on Jersey waste land and elsewhere, and, wherever practicable, to encourage such methods of forest management as will tend to preserve and mcrease our water supply and protect the wild animals of the woods.

It will also be the purpose of the organization to secure needed legislation. There are now two laws on the statute books. One was passed by the Legislature of 1893. and gives to the Township Committees of third and fourth class counties certain pow- en, this classification embracing all the counties in which the Jersey woodland belt is situated. The law says that the Township Committees have power to employ any person or persons whenever necessary to fight and extinguish fires and to fix a reasonable compensation. This law was never deemed practicable, and, consequently, no townships moved under it.

During the last session of the Legislature a genuine forest-fire law was enacted, as a supplement to the old one, ordering the Township Committees to appoint Fire Mars shals, providing for their compensation, and eterm1ning their duties.

Published by the New York Times, September 17, 1894

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