Will America's Worst Wildfire Disaster Happen in New Jersey?
Fires in the West usually take over headlines, but the single most destructive blaze in U.S. history very well could occur in the Northeast
If the conditions are right, experts predict that on a dry morning in late April or May the height of wildfire season in the reserve the dense forest between Philadelphia and Atlantic City could explode into an inferno that moves as fast as any out West. In a worst-case scenario, the fire might start just east of, say, the 7,000-person town of Tabernacle. Flames fueled by pine needles and 40-mile-an-hour winds will crawl within minutes from the forest floor to the crowns, growing from 20 to 30 to 70 feet tall as they leap between trees and over sandy roads. Between Tabernacle and the Atlantic Ocean are 30 miles of thick woodlands interspersed with a dozen retirement communities, a military base and a nuclear generator. If it is Memorial Day, there will also be thousands of vacationers. When Shawn Viscardi, the heavyset volunteer fire chief for Chatsworth an 800-person village in the reserve hears the first smoke report on the radio, he'll pray the fire isn't already too far gone.
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