Brighton Looks to Become a ‘Firewise’ Community

Feb 15, 2017

Brighton at Barnegat is seeking to be the fourth community in Barnegat Township to receive a “Firewise” designation from the state Forest Fire Service.

The program encourages communities to develop projects to slow or stop the progress of a wildfire. Horizons at Barnegat, Pheasant Run and Four Seasons at Mirage have already received such designations. The developments erected fuel breaks – gaps in vegetation that act as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a wildfire – and also cleared out underbrush and dead or diseased trees.

John Cowie, Barnegat Fire Co.’s fire prevention specialist, said the township’s proximity to the Pinelands makes it a prime risk for forest fire devastation.

“You turn on the news and see all these huge forest fires out in California and other places out west,” said Cowie, who is also a member of the township’s wildfire safety council. “We can have the same conditions here when we get into a particularly long dry spell.”

He said people got a strong dose of reality during the May 15-16, 2007, fire that burned approximately 17,000 acres and forced numerous communities in Barnegat and Stafford townships to evacuate. The massive blaze originated from a flare from an Air National Guard F-16 fighter jet at the Warren Grove Gunnery Range. Out of that disaster came the Firewise program.

Coordinating the Firewise activities in Brighton will be Diane Schlagel, who moved to the community in 2012.

“I remember watching forest fire coverage on the news,” she said. “When I moved to Brighton, I talked to residents, and I realized that the Firewise program was something we needed.”

The fire made its way into the perimeter of Brighton, destroying three homes and damaging five others.

“We’re looking at cleaning up some wooded areas where there is brush and dead trees,” said Schlagel, who added that the designation could make them eligible for grants to help with mitigation programs and raise public awareness. 

Michael Woodruff, president of the Manufactured Homeowners Association at Brighton, said the community will need to take the issue up with management.

“We’ll also be working with the Wildfire Safety Council,” said Woodruff. “This May will be the 10th anniversary of the big fire, and we will use that anniversary to conduct a Firewise Day event to (inform) folks that we are at risk again due to 10 years of forest growth. It was a memorable event that was quite historic for our population. It also put our fire service personnel at great risk.”

Deputy Mayor Frank Caputo, a member of the wildfire council, added, “Brighton was ground zero during that fire. I’m glad that they are looking to become part of the Firewise program because their location puts them at risk in case of another forest fire. They need to be proactive.”  

— Eric Englund

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