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March 13, 2024

Contact: Vincent Grassi (609) 984-1795
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
Caryn Shinske (609) 984-1795


(24/P008) TRENTON – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Forest Fire Service and local officials today showcased a partnership with the Department of Defense that is helping to protect properties adjacent to military installations in the Pinelands from the increased risks of wildfire due to a changing climate.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, person  Description automatically generatedThe officials toured a strategic forest fuel break in Manchester Township, Ocean County, one of three wildfire resilience projects in the Pinelands funded through the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Challenge Program. REPI facilitates long-term partnerships to improve resilience to climate change, preserve wildlife habitats and natural resources and promote sustainable land uses near military installations and ranges. Members of the Forest Fire Service also provided a demonstration of prescribed burning, one of the strategies used to help maintain the effectiveness of fuel breaks.

“Fighting wildfires in places such as the Pinelands has become increasingly challenging because of a changing and warming climate,” NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said.  “Through REPI, the Forest Fire Service and Department of Defense have formed a strong alliance that is advancing climate science, planning, and resilience strategies to protect lives and properties that are increasingly at risk from wildfires due to climate change. The Department of Environmental Protection thanks the Department of Defense for its foresight and our leaders in Congress for their support of this important work.”

Fuel breaks and firebreaks are critical to help ensure the safety of life and property in a wildfire. A fuel break is a manmade change in forest fuel characteristics which affect fire behavior. Fires burning into fuel breaks can be more readily controlled. A firebreak is a constructed clearing used to stop fires that may occur, or to provide a control line from which firefighters work. Maintenance of fuel breaks and firebreaks is achieved through prescribed burning - the practice of setting fires in forests or grasslands under well-defined and strategically planned conditions to achieve land management objectives.

Since 2020, the DEP’s Forest Fire Service has received nearly $1.7 million from the REPI Challenge Program in support of wildfire resilience projects. These projects have created or maintained 33 miles of firebreaks and fuel breaks in the vicinity of two military installations – Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the Warren Grove Air to Ground Range – in the heart of the Pinelands, a region especially prone to wildfires due to the dominant tree and plant species and porous sandy soil found there.

The fuel break tour and prescribed burning demonstration within the fuel break took place along Harry Wright Boulevard in the Roosevelt City section of Manchester Township, Ocean County, near Join Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Homes in the Roosevelt City neighborhood are directly adjacent to the fuel break in some of the state’s most pronounced wildland-urban interface areas, which is where forested lands and communities intertwine. The most recent significant wildfire in the vicinity of Roosevelt City prior to construction of the fuel break burned 99 acres in May 2020. The Forest Fire Service contained it a day later. There was no damage to any structures.

“We know the devastation to property, life and ecology that wildfires can cause, and our communities in the Pine Barrens are on the front lines of this threat,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “I’m proud to support federal funding to support projects like this firebreak to protect our national defense assets and communities living in New Jersey’s fire-prone areas.” 

“The 2023 fire season was a forceful reminder that New Jersey is not immune to the devastating wildfires that have only become more frequent due to the impacts of climate change,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. “This firebreak will not only protect critical military and national security infrastructure, but also hundreds of New Jersey families and their homes. I’ll continue fighting to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, support responsible forest management, and provide our military and our communities the resources they need to remain safe and protect critical infrastructure.”

“Our local communities, including those around Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in my district, are increasingly feeling the dangerous impact of longer and more intense wildfire seasons,” U.S. Representative Andy Kim said. “I am glad these three local wildfire risk reduction projects are receiving such crucial federal grant funding to help protect New Jersey families, their homes, and the Pine Barrens that people come to see from all over the world. We must continue to support valuable federal programs and partnerships like the REPI Program that continues to help look after our environment and bolster our resilience to climate change while also protecting our nation’s military readiness.”

“Protecting New Jersey’s forests from the destructive capabilities of forest fires is not only critical to the health of our state’s natural resources, but to the safety of New Jerseyans,” said U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew. “These projects will help ensure that our forests remain healthy and preserved for generations to come, and I am grateful for the tireless efforts of the New Jersey State Forest Service and New Jersey Forest Fire Service and the cooperation of the Department of Defense in the implementation of these innovative strategies.”

“It is our privilege as service members to support the local communities who help make Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst’s ‘Win as One’ mission possible each and every day,” said U.S. Navy Capt. James Howell, Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst deputy commander and Naval Support Activity commander. “The REPI Challenge Project is a critical step to ensuring Joint Base operationality during times of increased wildfire risk, while also safeguarding those whom we protect and serve from the same threat. We applaud the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection for coordinating with the Department of Defense to better protect thousands of residents in the Manchester Township and empower us as stewards over these natural habitats.”

image“Ocean County is a proud partner in this wildfire hazard mitigation project,” said Ocean County Commissioner Virginia E. Haines, liaison to the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust. “With everyone working together - Ocean County, the Department of Defense, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Forest Fire Service – we are now protecting 4,000 residents in the Roosevelt City section of Manchester Township.

“We have seen the devastation wildfires can cause and how quickly they spread. The action we took along with our partners to create this fuel-break should result in reduced wildfire risk,” Haines continued. “I want to commend our partners and the county staff for their diligence in working together so we can ensure the sustainability of the property’s native forest; reduce wildfire risk to the residents of Roosevelt City by creating a fuel-break; and to manage the forest with a consideration for wildlife.”

“Thanks to the financial support of the Department of Defense and collaboration with Ocean County, the Forest Fire Service has implemented a project that will protect people and property in Ocean and Burlington counties while also protecting firefighters,” said John Cecil, Assistant Commissioner for State Parks, Forests & Historic Sites. “In addition to the safety aspect this project affords through the creation of the fire break, the fuel break also helps to restore the forest to its more typical condition where trees have more growing room, and the underbrush is not excessively dense. These more natural conditions improve habitat for native plants to grow and wildlife to thrive, conditions that help to sustain species and protect the forest from damaging wildfire and excessive carbon loss.”

The other wildfire resilience projects funded through the REPI Challenge Program include the Warren Grove Firebreak (known as the Allen and Oswego Road Fire Mitigation and Habitat Restoration Project) in Bass River State Forest and the Greenwood Triangle Forest Fuels Maintenance Project, which is in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest and Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area. 

Additional funding to complete the projects was provided by DEP ($364,000), the USDA Forest Service ($127,000 in State Fire Assistance and $64,000 through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) and Ocean County ($107,000).

The New Jersey Forest Service and Forest Fire Service commenced work on the Warren Grove Firebreak during fall 2023. Since then, 13 miles of firebreak has been constructed along a strategic strip of land bordering Allen and Oswego roads, in Bass River Township, Burlington County, and in Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County. Forest thinning on 1,305 acres adjacent to Allen and Oswego roads will commence in mid-April to reduce combustible vegetation known as ladder fuels, and to improve wildlife habitat.

Ladder fuels are small trees and low vegetation beneath the forest canopy. Most large trees in the project area will remain, which will keep the canopy intact. Thinning allows for a healthier forest, reduces competition among trees and provides greater resource availability. Thinning also reduces the likelihood of a catastrophic wildfire burning through a forest.

The ongoing Greenwood Triangle Forest Fuels Maintenance Project in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest and Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area entails firebreak maintenance and underbrush removal to protect residents in Burlington and Ocean counties and to create safe conditions for firefighters during wildfire suppression efforts. The Greenwood Triangle Forest Fuels Maintenance Project also strategically connects with a Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst firebreak on federal property.

While REPI funding has assisted with the creation of fuel breaks and firebreaks, the Murphy Administration last year supplemented the Forest Fire Service’s FY24 budget with $3 million to enhance protection of lives and property through investments in new equipment and staff following the most active year in New Jersey for major wildfires in more than 20 years.

In 2023, the DEP’s Forest Fire Service responded to 1,193 wildfires which burned 18,043 acres across the Garden State. Fourteen of the fires were considered “major wildfires,” burning in excess of 100 acres.

“The importance of the partnership among federal, state and local governments to accomplish these resilience projects cannot be understated,” said Greg McLaughlin, Administrator for Forests and Natural Lands. “Not only will these projects provide protection to homes and military installations, they will also provide a safe place for firefighters to work in the event of a wildfire.”

To learn more about wildfires in New Jersey, steps to protect property and other resources, visit

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Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP, Facebook @newjerseydep, Instagram @nj.dep and LinkedIn @newjerseydep