Massive West Milford wildfire burns 972 acres, 95% contained: Officials

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Saturday, April 15, 2023
West Milford wildfire burns 972 acres, 65% contained: Officials
The West Milford wildfire has now spread across 972 acres, 65% of which is contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said in a statement. Anthony Johnson has the story.

WEST MILFORD, New Jersey (WABC) -- Crews have made substantial progress in their efforts to contain a wildfire that has spread across 972 acres in West Milford, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said.

State officials said the fire is 95% contained and that they expect to achieve 100% containment at some point Friday night.

All evacuation orders have been lifted and there are currently no structures in the fire's path, the agency said.

Protection for structures were provided by local volunteer fire departments.

The fire started near the rest stop off Route 23 North and Spring Lake Road in the woods, according to West Milford Mayor Michele Dale.

Echo Lake Road is closed between Route 23 and Macopin Road. Macopin Road, which was closed Thursday, has reopened.

At the peak of the fire overnight Thursday into Friday, about 155 firefighters were on the frontlines working to contain the blaze.

Firefighters were holding the original fire at about 630 acres when a second fire started and spread to the east side of Echo Lake.

That fire was moving towards Macopin Road between Maple Road and Gould Road. Homes are being threatened on nearby Sherwood Court, where a treelined backyard burned all the way to down to the ground overnight.

A controlled back-burn was the only way to save homes.

"At least a half a dozen houses at the end of Sherwood," West Milford resident Frank Santora said. "They drove the pumps down to Echo Lake to fill up with water. They had to kick at least one door in because of the pets."

Santora packed his car and was prepared to leave, drenching his roof and trees while awaiting word.

"It was chaos," he said. "There was every fire department within 10 miles. I don't think they knew."

The West Milford wildfire has now spread across 972 acres, 65% of which is contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said in a statement. Darla Miles has the story.

Firefighters are also closely watching a nursing home near the fire zone and are prepared to evacuate if necessary, but no residents have been moved.

"The fire has jumped the line of the containment zone despite extensive planning and efforts to suppress its migration," Mayor Dale said.

She said she talked to Governor Phil Murphy as firefighters established a new fire zone.

Overnight, the Forest Fire Service completed a backfiring operation to help contain the blaze. Crews will continue to reinforce containment lines throughout the day.

The New Jersey State Police provided the Forest Fire Service with a night flight over the wildfire to monitor the fire and check for new spot fires, the Forest Fire Service said.

In addition to crews on the ground, air support from a Forest Fire Service Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) will provide water drops to help strengthen containment lines.

NewsCopter 7 was above the fire Friday morning and captured just how far that smoke spread.

The Kanouse Wildfire, as it is called, is the largest wildfire in the northern part of the state since 2010, firefighters are hampered by the area's rocky terrain and continued warm temperatures.

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Residents are being advised to keep their windows closed to avoid smoke that may be traveling through the air.

Officials are restricting campfires and open agricultural burning.

Zachary Turner said it was like his neighborhood was covered in fog. Every breath was filled with smoke.

"I live right on Butler over here about a mile and a half away and just opening my window, I was able to smell it and looking around, you could see the sky was getting cloudier," he said.

April is peak fire season in New Jersey, officials said.

A firefighter who was fighting an unrelated brush fire in Sussex County later suffered a heart attack and died at home.

On Wednesday, fire crews worked to put out a forest fire spanning across 3,900 acres in Manchester Township, Ocean County.

Crews are battling a massive 3,859-acre forest fire in Manchester Township, Ocean County.

Unlike the terrain where the Manchester Township wildfire occurred, the land in West Milford is steep and rocky, officials said. Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service Greg McLaughlin says this makes fighting flames more difficult and requires more work by hand.

"It's very fatiguing and you start to see that fatigue set in," McLaughlin said. He attributes the heat and long hours with the pressure on these New Jersey firefighters, some of whom also battled flames in Manchester Township

The cause of the West Milford fire remains under investigation.


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