The state of New Jersey is seeking $50,000 in restitution from five teenagers and young men whose bonfire last year ended up destroying more than 11,600 acres in a blaze that took nearly a month to extinguish.

The civil charges against the five were announced Thursday by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Officials said the bonfire on private property sparked the fire on March 30, 2019. Winds and dry conditions fanned the flames, destroying thousands of acres at in the Bass River and Penn State forests of the Pine Barrens.

Authorities had to close Route 72 as hundreds of firefighters battled the flames.

The five people were charged last month with setting a fire without written permission, failure to extinguish the fire and failure notify authorities:

  • Zachary L. Staff, 19, of Hainesport
  • Jaffrey D. Wood Jr., 20, of Pemberton
  • Zachary W. Joseph, 21, of Pemberton
  • Cassidy H. Gregory, 19, of Mount Holly
  • And a 17-year-old whose name was not released

The fire occurred during peak wildfire season, between March and early May, when low humidity and warm winds help ignite dry tree debris.

Last week, lightening sparked a fire that burned 1,500 acres in the Millville Wildlife Management Area. It took firefighters more than two days to bring that fire under control.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include the names of the people who were charged. 

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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