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New Jersey forest fire menaces homes overnight

July 30, 1997

MULLICA TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ A fire that charred nearly 2,000 acres of southern New Jersey’s parched Pine Barrens crackled slowly toward a housing development early today, but the wind died down in time to save the homes.

Sixty percent of the fire that began Tuesday afternoon in the Wharton State Forest was contained this morning, and about 100 people evacuated from their homes overnight were allowed to return. Firefighters hoped to contain the blaze today, said James Petrini, assistant division fire warden for the Forest Fire Service.

Lighting smaller blazes to change the fire’s course, firefighters were able to control the part burning on higher ground, said Bert Plante, a warden with the state Forest Fire Service. Lower-lying areas continued to burn.

``The cedar swamps and low ground are very difficult to operate in,″ he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown.

At the fire’s height, smoke could be seen as far away as Trenton, 40 miles north. People evacuated from their homes took shelter in firehouses while others prepared for the worst.

``I’m just thinking about getting the hell out of here. I’m saving my life,″ said 32-year-old Naomi Flamer. Relatives helped her and her 5-year-old son stuff their car with belongings in case they had to leave.

Fanned by winds of 10 mph, authorities said the fire burned between three or four miles in just over seven hours. A volunteer firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.

``The problem we’re having is it’s a very long fire ... It’s thin but long,″ said Jim Barresi, assistant director of the state Forestry Service.

In Totem Village, ash and cinders fell on homes where owners had left running lawn sprinklers on the roofs before fleeing.

As four planes and a helicopter dropped water on the fire, some 400 firefighters had initially gathered to battle the flames should it reach the village. As of this morning, six to eight trucks remained.

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