N.J. Pinelands Fire Fully Contained; Senators Meet With Military Officials About Cause
Monday, May 21st 2007, 6:23 PM CDT
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Firefighters declared Monday they had fully contained a forest fire that charred more than 26 square miles and was believed to have been started by a flare dropped from a National Guard F-16 into the tinder-dry Pinelands.
New Jersey's two U.S. senators met in Washington with officials from the National Guard and Air Force about the cause of the fire. The Air Force has convened an accident investigation board to review the training exercise and following blaze.
``We need an investigation that yields results _ the community must be assured that there will be specific changes to prevent mishaps in the future,'' Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg said after the meeting.
The more than 17,000-acre fire was 90 percent extinguished after nearly a half-inch of rain Sunday night. The blaze was still smoldering in a few small, swampy pockets that were difficult if not impossible for firefighters to reach, said Steve Maurer, an assistant fire warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
In Barnegat, N.J., adjacent to the Warren Grove Gunnery Range where the fire began, 85-year-old Lester Balkie was marveling at the kindness of a stranger.
A New York woman he didn't know gave Balkie her 1988 Mercedes Benz to replace his 1990 Mercedes, destroyed in last week's blaze.
Balkie was sitting outside the ruins of his trailer home Saturday with his son when a caravan of cars appeared, led by a Mercedes with a red bow tied on top of it.
``It's unbelievable,'' said Lester Balkie, who could not fathom the generosity of a stranger, Christine Desjardines-Fallica of Orange County, N.Y.
Desjardines-Fallica was watching news of the forest fire on television last week when she saw footage of Balkie.
``I stopped what I was doing when I saw him,'' she told The Press of Atlantic City. ``I immediately knew what I had to do. I called my husband and said, I'm giving away my car.'''
In Southern California, fire crews doused remnants of a 2,500-acre wildfire that chased more than 3,000 campers from the Angeles National Forest and forced the evacuation of a handful of homes.
The blaze was declared 100 percent contained, meaning crews encircled the site with a buffer of open ground to prevent the fire from spreading if embers flared to life.
There were no injuries, and no homes or buildings were damaged. The cause is under investigation.