May 16, 2007 (by Asif Shamim) - A wildfire has started after an F-16 from the New Jersey ANG dropped a flare during a routine training sortie over the Warren Grove Gunnery Range in Ocean County. The resulting fire has forced thousands to flee the area.
According to Lt. Col. James Garcia, a spokesman for the New Jersey Air National Guard, the fire started after 2 p.m. EDT after the F-16 from the 177th FW based at Atlantic City had dropped flares over the range during a routine exercise where it was practicing the use of its self-defence system to decoy heat seeking missiles.
"Sometimes during the training, the flare goes slightly off and hits a patch of woods, but we see it and are able to quickly put it out," Garcia said. "In this case, the flare may have been taken by the wind to where we couldn't see it go down and it was able to spread."
By late last night 12,000 acres along the border of Ocean and Burlington counties had burned, with 10 percent of fire under control according to local fire fighters. Several thousand people have been forced to evacuate the area with many spending the night in makeshift shelters. New Jersey State Police have closed off several Highways in the surrounding area with many expected to remain closed during the morning rush hour
"This is one of the larger fires we’ve had for quite a few years," said Maris Gabliks, chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Chief Gabliks said that warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds fuelled the blaze.
In 2004, another ANG
F-16 from the 121st FS/113th FW at Andrews AFB
, on a night time training mission in New Jersey, accidentally fired 25 rounds of ammunition that tore through an elementary school which was no more than 3 miles from the latest incident.
In 2002, errant practice bombs at the range sparked a small fire that burned about 11,000 acres. Another fire that started at the range destroyed 1,600 acres of the pinelands in 1999.