The Ocean County Airport in Berkeley Township will once again serve as the temporary home to a single engine air tanker capable of delivering up to 800 gallons of water to precision targets during forest fires.

Following a massive forest fire in the Pinelands earlier this month, Ocean County officials are bringing in the tanker to help in response to any forest fires that take place over the next month.

Robert J. Miller Airpark
Robert J. Miller Airpark (Ocean County Dept. of Planning)

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders are set to approve a resolution authorizing use of the Ocean County Airport.

The state Forest Fire Service is scheduled to base the plane at the airport from mid-April to mid-May.

The plane is scheduled to leave Ocean County around May 10.

“With this location, the State Forest Fire Service can quickly respond to forest fires in the central area of the state," Ocean County Freeholder Joe Vicari, who serves as liaison to the airport, said. “Many of the County’s inland communities are threatened by the hazard of forest fires. During high winds and dry periods, it is critical to control and extinguish developing fires as soon as possible. Having the NJFFS (New Jersey Forest Fire Service) stationed at the Ocean County Airport each year is invaluable to the safety of countless Ocean County homes and businesses.”

During the 2018 forest fire season, the Air Tractor 802F “Fire Boss” tanker plane, responded to 10 fires and made 38 drops delivering 12,800 gallons of water.

The NJ DEP says that the peak wildfire season in New Jersey typically begins in middle to late March and runs through late spring, when the weather tends to be dry, windy and warmer.

This also is the time of year when forest canopies and undergrowth have yet to leaf out, making forest debris more susceptible to the drying effects of wind and sunshine.

The Ocean County Airport is located on 420 acres in Berkeley Township about five miles west of Toms River.

A precision approach facility, it features a 6,000-foot runway in addition to the Crosswind Runway.

“The Crosswind Runway provides an extra measure of safety for pilots which allows us to have this plane in our backyard,” Vicari said.

The airport accommodates various aircraft, including private airplanes, small corporate jets, the state Forest Fire Service planes, the Civil Air Patrol and Emergency Services aircraft.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia Haines,who serves as liaison of the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation, said the County works with New Jersey State Forest Fire Service in preparing for forest fire season, which usually starts in late March and noted that the Department completed prescribed burns at many of Ocean County’s parks and natural land sites.

“Since March Ocean County Parks staff has worked with state Forest Fire Service in prescribed burning almost 1,200 acres,” Haines said.

These prescribed burns help to manage fuel reduction including vegetation, leaves needles, downed trees, branches and other growth resulting in reducing the risk of wildfires and the fuel load so when a wildfire does occur it either slows it down or stops its movement until it can be contained.

Prescribed burns, which are performed under only exacting conditions, also can help restore nutrients and improve forest health and habitat for wildlife and endangered plant species.

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