Fire-Fighting Air Tanker Returns To Ocean County

An Air Tractor 802F. (Photo courtesy AirTractor.com)
An Air Tractor 802F. (Photo courtesy AirTractor.com)

BERKELEY – An air tanker capable of dumping water on forest fires will be using the local airport as its base of operations for a month, county officials said.

The tanker, which can haul 800 gallons of water, will be housed at the Ocean County Airport in Berkeley, otherwise known as the Robert J. Miller Airpark. It will be here from mid-April to about May 10, according to a press release. This is the peak wildfire season.

“The New Jersey State Forest Fire Service resumed operations at the Ocean County Airport following the construction of the Crosswind Runway in 2014,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to the airport. “With this location, the State Forest Fire Service can quickly respond to forest fires in the central area of the state.”

A recent forest fire burned 11,000 acres at the border of Burlington and Ocean counties, Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines said. This vehicle will help if another breaks out. However, the county does prescribed burns to prevent forest fires from starting. These burns destroy undergrowth that serves as fuel for fires.

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“Since March Ocean County Parks staff has worked with state Forest Fire Service in prescribed burning almost 1,200 acres,” Haines said.

A recent project created a “fuel break” by way of thinning the forest on the south side of Wells Mills County Park to protect housing communities on West Bay Ave in Barnegat Township, she said.

“We are also in the planning stages of a similar fuel break on the Structural Management Natural Lands properties to help in protecting residential communities in the Route 539 area of Manchester Township,” she said. “With more than 30,000 acres of open space preserved by the County, and all the additional open space we have here, it’s imperative we take a pro-active approach to reducing the natural fuels that could result in quickly spreading forest fires.

During the 2018 forest fire season, the Air Tractor 802F “Fire Boss” tanker plane, responded to 10 fires and made 38 drops delivering 12,800 gallons of water.