A rapidly spreading wildfire in southern New Jersey spread across 3,859 acres in one day but was 50% contained by Wednesday morning, authorities said. 

The fire was a “severe situation,” said John Cecil, the assistant commissioner of state parks, forests and historic sites at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection at a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“We saw a wall of fire; 200-foot flames raining fire embers,” said Cecil. 

Smoke rises after wildfires broke out in Manchester, New Jersey.

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On Tuesday evening the New Jersey Forest Fire Service responded to an active wildfire reported on federal, state and private property in Manchester Township, New Jersey, the agency said on its Facebook page. The wildfire doubled, burning 2,500 acres within just a few hours, the agency said. 

CBS Philadelphia reported officials at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst said the fire spread onto a portion of the base but no structures were affected.

Shortly after 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, 70 households from Manchester Township were evacuated to the Machester High School, said Manchester Police Chief Robert Dolan. About 100 households were evacuated from Lakehurst Borough, added Dolan. The shelters were open until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. when police notified residents they were allowed to return to their homes, he said. 

A helicopter intervenes to control a wildfire in a forest in Manchester area, New Jersey.

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Everyone has now returned to their homes and is safe, Dolan said.

Mid-March through May is peak wildfire season in New Jersey, when the weather warms and humidity and winds pick up, the agency said in a news release on its website. In 2023, wildfire season started early; since Jan 1, 315 wildfires have burned 919.75 acres, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said. 

The agency expects to contain the Manchester County Fire soon and “wrap up this fire quickly and safely,” Trevor Raynor, New Jersey Forest Fire Service’s warden, said at the news conference. Firefighters are using hard pavement, roads and controls to stop the wildfire spread, he said.

New Jersey Forest Fire Service said the cause of the wildfire remains under investigation.