Recent California wildfires destroyed homes and killed residents, many of whom lived in close proximity to forests and woodlands. The U.S. Forest Service reports a 40 percent increase in the number of homes located near forests or wooded areas. That is 1 in 3 homes in the U.S.

Jeff Tittel, state director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, says in our state we have also been developing too close to wooded areas.

"We in the Pinelands have thousands of people that are potentially at risk if there is a major fire," he said this week.

"So many houses are intermixed into the Pinelands region. These large-scale senior developments in Whiting and in the middle of the Pinelands," he said. "In the Pinelands, forest fires are a natural part of the eco system and they happen all of the time, from lightning and from other reasons."

Tittel says there's a similar fire risk from homes built close to woods in the Highlands and Skylands regions in North Jersey.

Tittel says the state needs to prepare with warning signals, prevention and updated building codes.

"We have been fighting it for years. It was one of the reasons that we pushed for the Highlands Act, and one of the things that we have been trying to deal with with the Pinelands is to stop putting people in the middle and in harm's way," he said.

He also says Jersey has been lucky. For a decade, the weather has been wetter than normal.

"If we get into a drought, the chances for forest fires go up greatly, and the chances for major forest fires, both up in North Jersey and in the Pinelands, become more and more potential. And it is something that we really do not pay attention to when we develop in New Jersey, and we have not for a long time."

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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