‘Homes, lives were at risk’: Firefighters battle Jackson wildfire, some houses threatened

JACKSON TOWNSHIP - On Tuesday night, Todd Lapushinsky was standing in his backyard, wielding a garden hose as he watched the smoke and flames get closer and closer to his home.

He has lived on Pamela Court for 36 years, but he’s never seen anything like this. He watched from his backyard as firefighters conducted a controlled burn and got water on the blaze. The flames died down, but the fire still burned all night.

Pamela Court resident Todd Lapushinsky speaks Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023, about how he used a hose behind his Jackson home to keep flames back.

“I woke up...at like four in the morning and I could still see it glowing back there," said Lapushinsky. "That's why I was happy to see [the firefighters] come back today."

The Glory wildfire that threatened homes in Jackson neighborhoods like Lapushinsky’s is now 100% contained, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said.

The wildfire - burning in the area of East Commodore Boulevard and Cedar Swamp Road - grew to 82 acres in size, the Forest Fire Service said. The 30 structures that were at risk on Tuesday are now safe, according to fire officials.

Those structures were located on Pamela Court and East Commodore Boulevard, Deale Carey, section fire warden for the NJ Forest Fire Service, said during a press conference Wednesday morning.

Firefighters wet down hot spots behind homes on Pamela Court  in Jackson Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023.

The fire - named the “Glory Fire,” for its proximity to Glory's Market on Cedar Swamp Road - was reported at 2:26 p.m. Tuesday, fire officials said.

Lapushinsky said the scary part was wondering if it was going to reach his house, but that the fire crew did a great job.

"They actually pulled the firetruck right in my driveway, so I felt kind of safe when I [saw] that," he said.

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The smoke from the Glory fire and the fires in Canada was posing a challenge for firefighters and making it harder for them to breathe, Carey said.

“It’s become a hindrance even for our fire observers, because they're getting the haze and smoke so they can't see and spot stuff," Carey said.

Lapushinsky said he had his house open for firefighters who needed water, allowing smoke to fill his home.

“It gets in your throat, you know?" he said.

The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, county fire marshal and state forest fire service are investigating the source of the fire, but Forest Fire officials said its point of origin is in a wet area within the woods.

Smoke still fills the air as Pamela Court resident Jackie Adamczyk walks her dog in Jackson Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023.

As a result of dry conditions, campfires and agricultural burning are banned across the state on Wednesday, Carey said, and residents are urged to clear out underbrush from their yards and keep all outdoor fires covered, such as within a chimenea.

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Jackie Adamczyk, another Pamela Court resident, said she has never lived through anything like this.

"This year was actually very chaotic," she said. "First with the tornado that just nearly missed us, just a mile behind our house, and now this wildfire that should have never even been a problem."

She got home just before they closed her street off on Tuesday afternoon, and said she immediately started to cry. Later, she was able to see the prescribed burn, and a trench was dug in her backyard.

Pamela Court resident Jackie Adamczyk speaks about how close the "Glory" fire came to her Jackson home during an interview Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023.

"This whole neighborhood was threatened," she said. "Our houses were at risk, lives were at risk, pets...Thankfully we didn't have to get evacuated, but I was ready."

Adamczyk said summer is a great time, but that we need to be a little wiser in the midst of the dry conditions.

"We all just need to be smart," she said. "This shouldn't be how we're starting summer right now, with tragedies like this."

All roads that were closed Tuesday have been reopened, including exit 21 on I-195, East Commodore Boulevard, Cedar Swamp Road and Jackson Mills Road, according to the Forest Fire Service.

Greg McLaughlin, chief of the state fire service, said the area where the fire is burning has gone about 23 days without significant rainfall.

“It's been a long season," said McLaughlin. "We've had nine major wildfires this season: major wildfires are fires that we consider to be 100 acres or larger. In a typical year and a busy year, we would normally see four or five major wildfires.”

The season has been about 30% more active for wildfire than usual, he said. In the past 12 months, the forest fire service has responded to about 1,400 wildfires, where 1,000 is more typical, the fire chief said.

The fire service is rotating firefighters between busy and less busy areas of the state in order to give their personnel breaks and rest, he said.

”We're definitely showing fatigue," said McLaughlin. "People are tired, people are weary."

The fire began under "Red Flag" fire conditions, fire officials said.

"A Red Flag Warning means that the forest and the fuels and the weather is all combined to be conducive to rapid spread of wildfires," said Trevor Raynor, assistant division fire warden of the state fire service. "It's burning under these more severe conditions, combined with low snowfall this past year and low rainfall. So the fire is burning a little more aggressively than it would this time of year.”

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: NJ Forest Fire Service: Major wildfires 30% more active this year