Fire Spotlights Concerns Of Living Near Fighter Jets

Fire Spotlights Concerns Of Living Near Fighter Jets
May 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Fire Spotlights Concerns Of Living Near Fighter Jets

Fire Spotlights Concerns Of Living Near Fighter Jets
New York Times
May 17, 2007
By Richard G. Jones and Nate Schweber
As hundreds of firefighters battled for the second day to control a huge wildfire touched off by a flare at a military firing range on the edge of the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey, some of those who live near the blaze questioned yesterday whether more safety precautions should be put in place.
The fire — which by last night had turned about 13,500 acres into a roaring inferno — was the fourth time in the last eight years that military exercises in the area have left residents feeling as if they live in a war zone.
“I don’t think they should be doing it,” said Brenda Schoeneberg, 46, on Tuesday evening as she prepared to evacuate her sprawling neo-Colonial home in Warren Grove, N.J., where a stand of pine trees was silhouetted against the blaze 200 yards away.
A live flare from an F-16 fighter jet on a training mission at the nearby Warren Grove Gunnery Range on Tuesday afternoon had sent Ms. Schoenberg and more than 2,500 others fleeing, including dozens of residents of nearby nursing homes.
In 2004, another F-16 fired at least eight rounds from a high-powered 20-millimeter cannon through the roof of an elementary school in Little Egg Harbor Township, about three miles from the range. No one was hurt in that episode, which occurred at night, and damage to the school was minimal. In 2002, errant bombs touched off a fire that scorched about 11,000 acres, and in 1999 a fire at the range destroyed about 1,600 acres of the Pinelands.
At the least, said Diane Lohr, 45, another resident of Warren Grove, a tiny community tucked on the southeast edge of the 1.1 million-acre Pine Barrens, the military should be more sensitive to risks of fire amid windy, dry conditions. The authorities said those two factors had caused the latest blaze to spread rapidly.
Despite the risks, the military said that the accidental fire would not deter them from conducting future training missions and that it had no plans to move the firing range, which has been used by the military for more than 40 years.
“It’s a vital function those marines are doing for our country,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Reith of the New Jersey Air National Guard. Two A-10 fighter jets from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and two F-16s from New Jersey were conducting a practice mission when the fire started.
A spokesman for the range, Kryn Westhoven, said that the base had held meetings with residents of towns near the range after the earlier episodes and had taken steps to address their concerns.
“I understand residents’ concerns about the range,” Mr. Westhoven said. “We’re proactive down here.”
Mr. Westhoven said that the military had a buffer zone around the range and said that the site had been chosen by the military because it was so isolated. “It is in the Pinelands, in a pretty remote area,” he said.
The area near the range, about 25 miles north of Atlantic City, is far more developed than it was when the military began conducting training missions there in the early 1960s.
Some here said that they knew the risks before choosing to settle in the area.
Bob Wilson, 67, a tractor-trailer driver who grew up in the area and moved to Warren Grove in 1970, said the bombing range was something residents had just gotten used to.
“It’s a fact of life,” he said. “We knew they wouldn’t move the bombing range. It was here when we moved here.”
The blaze was slowly being brought under control yesterday by more than 1,000 firefighters and emergency workers from five counties. Fire officials said that 90 minutes of heavy rain last night helped douse many of the flames.
The authorities said they had begun scaling back firefighting operations and had about 30 percent of the blaze under control. No one had been hurt in the fire, but about a dozen homes had been damaged or destroyed.
Although annoyed by the evacuations, some in the area saw the threat of fire as another part of life in this rural swath of southern New Jersey. The Pine Barrens itself is a rare, heavily forested ecosystem spread over parts of Burlington, Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland Counties — the largest piece of open space between Boston and Richmond, Va. — with an uncommon variety of plant life.
John Kertland, 43, a computer technician who has lived in Warren Grove for 10 years, said that although the bombing at the range “kind of destroys the serenity around here,” he tries not to think about that, or the fire danger.
“Wherever you live you’re going to have something,” Mr. Kertland said. “Here it’s fires, but I don’t dwell on it.”
Despite the threat, Ms. Lohr said fires are rare and not bad enough to affect the quality of life in Warren Cove.
“For 364 days a year,” she said, “it’s beautiful here.”

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