The New Jersey State Forest Fire Service is attempting controlled burns on 10,000 to 20,000 acres of forest and grassland before wildfire season starts this spring.

The prescribed burns reduce the risk of spontaneous wildfires.

February and March are the busiest months for prescribed burns — it’s not too warm, dry or windy. Wooded state lands with a lot of built-up undergrowth and debris, in particular the Pinelands in South Jersey, are the primary targets.

Workers use hand-held torches to set low-burning fires, said Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection

“They’ll light a line along the forest floor. There might just be a slight prevailing wind. That will gently push the ground fire across to the end point, which could be another fire line or some natural feature such as a wetland or a river,” Hajna said.  

The burns lower the chance of wildfires igniting and potentially destroying homes and infrastructure. They’re also a form of managing fire-dependent ecological systems.

Since very specific conditions are necessary to carry out a prescribed burn, the weather will determine how much crews are able to accomplish in the next several weeks.