Is Trenton Burning?
May 17, 2007
Safety officers at the Warren Grove Gunnery Range knew the brush in their training area was dry, but not dry enough to call off a combat simulation.
Their mission was to help four fighter pilots, working with Marines on the ground, practice dropping bombs. Two firetrucks stood by as one of the jets swooped low and dropped flares into the sand plain just west of the Garden State Parkway.
Within seconds, the ground erupted in flame, touching off a monster conflagration Tuesday that would scorch nearly 20 square miles within 24 hours.
For the fourth time in nine years, the Air National Guard had a major training mishap on its hands.
In 1999 and 2001, practice bombs started two major fires. In 2004, a fighter jet preparing for target practice at Warren Grove accidentally strafed a school in nearby Little Egg Harbor Township.
Yesterday, as the fire burned out of control, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg requested a meeting with the Air Force and Air National Guard. Barbara Jo Crea, the mayor of Little Egg Harbor Township, called the fire “very disturbing” and said she wanted a clearer explanation of how it started. Some residents evacuating the area said they were outraged.
Far be it from me to tell the military how best to train its people. But the history of the Pine Barrens is largely a history of wildfires, whether “spite fires” started by feuding Pineys, careless fires caused when Philadelphia mobsters ditched their smokes after disposing of one of their victims, or the run-of-the-mill natural kind started by lightning.
Hoping the big guy in the sky will help out with fire control isn’t much of a plan, either.