As residents of an urban area, we in Union County are used to thinking about fire prevention in terms of our homes and other buildings. However, an extremely mild winter and dry spring have come together to underscore the importance of preventing forest fires in our public parks and nature preserves, too.

Last month a small brush fire cropped up in Cranford, an unusual occurrence for Union County. Fire risk warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service and the New Jersey Forest Service, and major blazes have broken out elsewhere in the state, as well as nearby in Staten Island.

The situation has added a new layer of complexity to the job faced by our career and volunteer fire fighters. I know they will rise to meet this new challenge with the same extraordinary bravery and dedication they display every day.

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Our local fire departments can depend on each other for support when the going gets tough. Through the Fire Mutual Aid system, they can coordinate to send extra personnel and specialized equipment to the scene of a forest fire, and the Union County Office of Emergency Management also has a small utility truck for accessing remote areas.

Most of all, I want our local fire fighters to know that they can depend on all of us to be on the alert for forest fire hazards, and do our best to prevent them.

One sure way to help prevent forest fires in public parks is to use only designated areas for barbecuing. A sudden gust of wind can easily send embers shooting into nearby wooded areas.

Where grilling is permitted, douse the fire thoroughly after you are finished and stir the wet embers to ensure they are completely soaked, then discard them in a trash can. Do not place them in the woods.

Improperly discarded cigarettes are a frequent cause of forest fires. When in the parks, cigarette smokers can make a big difference by using a portable ash tray, or dousing their stubs thoroughly with water.

County residents who live next to a wooded area can help by exercising extra care with their grills, candles and outdoor fireplaces, and by keeping an eye out for sparks when using power mowers and other equipment.

Clearing debris and fire hazards from residential property also helps. To assist you, Union County offers free drop-off days to collect used motor oil, paint thinner and other flammable substances from residents. For information call our recorded recycling hotline, 908-654-9889 or visit

It’s also important to note that in New Jersey about 99 percent of all forest fires are the result of accidents or carelessness. Of these, many are caused by cigarettes or by grills or campfires in non-designated areas. Some are the result of arson. If you see risky activity, please report it by calling 911.

By working together we can all help protect our public parks during these dry conditions, so we can preserve them as cooling, peaceful places to relax all summer long.