Forest fire roars at Delaware Water Gap

Firefighters from federal and New Jersey agencies were battling a forest fire overnight in Hardwick Township that broke out in a popular hiking area near the Pennsylvania border.

The fire was still burning as of 7:20 a.m., according to a U.S.National Park Service spokeswoman. No injuries had been reported.

A news briefing was planned for 8:30 a.m., she said, and more information, including if the fire is in state or national territory, would be available afterward.

The fire that began Sunday afternoon was initially reported split between Worthington State Forest and the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, news outlets reported. A Facebook post from a nearby fire department in Pennsylvania indicated the fire had grown to 70 acres by Sunday night.

Park Service spokeswoman Kathleen Sandt said Sunday that the fire was on Mount Tammany off the Red Dot Trail. Visitors were asked to avoid the area but those on Sunday afternoon on the Red Dot and Blue Blazed trails were allowed to hike down the mountain. Access was closed to hikers seeking to go up.

A New Jersey State Forest Fire Service helicopter dropped water on the fire, but Sandt told the New Jersey Herald that the aircraft had to stop operating after sundown for safety reasons.

Volunteer firefighters were filling up backpack tanks of water and carrying them to the top of the 1,526-foot Mount Tammany, Sandt said.

Incident Commander Eric Weber told WFMZ-TV that the ground crews operating at night were contending with difficult terrain.

Forest fire in Warren County

A fire burns Feb. 23, 2020, on Mount Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Hardwick Township. Firefighters from federal and New Jersey agencies were battling the forest fire that broke out in a popular hiking area near the Pennsylvania border.Daniel Freel/The New Jersey Herald via AP

“It’s pretty steep and rugged,” Weber said. “It’s probably the steepest terrain in the entire State of New Jersey.”

The crews were using an existing trail as a fire break, Weber told the station.

Pictures and video on social media showed a wall of flames not far from Interstate 80, which winds through the Water Gap and was backed up in both directions. A smoke advisory for drivers on I-80 was lifted just before midnight but reinstated just before 7 a.m., the New Jersey Department of Transportation reported.

The fire broke out on a sunny February day that saw temperatures in the mid-50s, news outlets reported. The cause of the fire wasn’t clear Sunday night.