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Fire Tower Appeal Raises Safety Alarm

Aug 01, 2018

To the Editor:

The Bass River fire tower appeal was filed with the intent to stop the unnecessary clear cutting on what hikers call the “Enchanted Forest” trail. The appeal must also bring to the attention of the governor the need for improved fire safety throughout the state. It is a call to action on behalf of our firefighters.  

The 21 lookout towers in New Jersey are well past their years of intended use. The service life for the Bass River tower is 70 years. The tower is now 81 years old, and the state’s forest fire service is still relying on that outdated structure to serve the public in Burlington and Ocean counties. Furthermore, the nine towers in Division B average an age of 85 years.

If the state is genuinely concerned about public safety, why hasn’t the issue of the out-of-service-life towers been addressed? The Christie policy of cost cutting has led to a pattern of clear cutting, and at what price? Public safety.  

Why has the public’s safety been neglected? When was the last time the fire towers were inspected? The Forest Fire Service stated it has no intention of replacing the tower due to lack of funding in its budget. The government shutdown in July 2017 closed what was called “unnecessary departments” in our state. The Forest Fire Service, under the state Department of Environmental Protection, fell into that description, “unnecessary.” We believe otherwise.  

Time is up for the budget-strapped condition the Forest Fire Service has been left in. The Pinelands Commission was presented with an alternative, which is both cost effective and will not involve the construction of a new tower or clear cutting. A state-of-the-art fire detection camera system called Forest Watch is deployed in the U.S. and countries throughout the world where vast areas of forest need protection.

The Forest Watch system, a computerized camera created by the EnviroVisions Co., has the capability of detecting smoke year ’round, both day and night. Presently, lookout towers are manned for four months, for six hours a day during peak fire season. If a lookout does see smoke he must then communicate between three towers to triangulate the general location of the blaze. The camera system can GPS the exact location and issue an alert.

Forest Watch cameras were operating in New Jersey effectively in Brick and Monmouth. The cameras are mounted on the police radio towers. Curiously, after the Pinelands Commission’s meeting on June 8, when we identified their use, both cameras were turned off! Why would state employees intentionally put lives at risk? It is conceivable that New Jerseyans are one drought away from a firestorm like the ones our West Coast is experiencing. We are far from prepared. Neglect can swiftly lead to negligence.  

Burlington County has spent $40 million on an upgrade to its public safety communication system. A new 240-foot radio tower was constructed at the Bass River State Police Barracks. That tower is less than a mile from the 80-foot Bass River fire tower. A camera can be installed much sooner than the proposed clear cutting could take place, which is a temporary fix at best.

From 1999 to 2016 major fires near Bass River Fire Tower destroyed 30,100 acres. We would like to see that number greatly reduced.  

Riki Losiewicz

Little Egg Harbor

 

 

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