One Fire Day: Tom Gerber – New Jersey Forest Fire Service
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
This month’s story, “The Kings Grant Fire,” comes from Tom Gerber, Section Warden for the NJ Division of Forestry, Forest Fire Service. Tom has had a long history fighting fires and managing prescribed fires in NJ and is one of NAFSE’s Community Representatives. Here, he relates a memorable fire from 1986.
Tom Gerber on recent November 2015 field trip
On May 5, 1986, Evesham Twp, Burlington County NJ, NJ Forest Fire Service Section B-1, wardens Tom and Paul Gerber returned to their station in Medford from a small forest fire in the Kings Grant Section of Evesham with Wildland Engines B-1 and B-24. At approximate 5 p.m., the lookout in the Medford Fire Tower reported a huge column of smoke coming from the Golf Course Links at Kings Grant near #5 Crown Royal Parkway. This wildfire was burning in dense Pinelands fuel that had not burned since 1968. To compound the problem, it had been developed with single and multi-family housing units in 1980 at very high densities. This 25-acre wildfire would go on to consume five, 200,000 dollar dwellings and require 15 wildland engines, 2 water tenders, 3 tractor plows, 3 single engine aircraft drop planes, and 50 firefighters from the State Forest Fire Service to control. Structure fire departments from Evesham Fire, along with fire engines from all of southern Burlington and Camden Counties, responded to our call for help. This incident was a modern day wake-up call for wildland-urban interface fire in the NJ Pine Barrens. The 80’s era re-awoke awareness of the risks in the wildland-urban interface. There had not been many scares like this since 1963 and 1977, both nationally and in NJ. This Kings Grant fire followed the devastating 1985 Florida fire season, so the Evesham Fire Rescue Chief was able to develop an 8 million dollar fire district with a career staff of 30 uniformed fire fighters as a result of this fire. Chief Lowden also became a voting member of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG).