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Thu, May 17, 2007

New Jersey Fire Reportedly Sparked By Flare From F-16

Jet Was On Training Mission At Nearby Firing Range

Firefighters are battling a 13,500-acre blaze near Pine Barrens, NJ that was apparently sparked not by lightning, or a firebug... but by a flare accidentally fired from a military jet on a training mission Tuesday near the southern New Jersey community.

The New York Times reports the flare, fired by an F-16 flying from Warren Grove Gunnery Range, ignited the fire that has forced the evacuation of over 2,500 nearby residents. It is the fourth time in the last eight years incidents at the training area have sparked misgivings among local residents.

“I don’t think they should be doing it,” said Brenda Schoeneberg, as she prepared to evacuate her home Tuesday night.

It is the third time the firing range has seen a fire since 1999, when approximately 1,600 acres were scorched. Three years later, errant bombs set off a fire that ultimately scorched approximately 11,000 acres.

And then there was a highly publicized 2004 incident, when another F-16 from the range erroneously fired at least eight rounds through the roof of a Little Egg Harbor Township elementary school. As Aero-News reported, no one was injured in that accident, as it occurred at night, and the school suffered minor damage.

Military officials say the training range serves an important role, and despite the risk there are no plans to move the facility to another location.

“It’s a vital function those marines are doing for our country,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Reith of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

Range spokesman Kryn Westhoven notes the range, in use for over 40 years, was originally selected due to its remote location.

“I understand residents’ concerns about the range,” Westhoven said. “We’re proactive down here.”

Most residents have resigned themselves to the presence of the firing range, 

“Wherever you live you’re going to have something,” Warren Grove resident John Kertland said. “Here it’s fires, but I don’t dwell on it.”

FMI: www.state.nj.us/military/annrpt97/air.htm

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