Alligator River/Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
P. O. Box 1969
Manteo, North Carolina 27954

Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131

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News Release

February 16, 2007

photo credit: USFWS
Lingering smoke can still be seen the day after a prescribed burn at Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge. Prescribed burns on November 5 and 6, 2006 next to the community of Cedar Island reduced the build-up of fuels which can contribute to an intense wildfire.

Prescribed burning on Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge can be difficult and expensive due to travel requirements for staff and transportation costs for equipment. Proposed prescribed burning activities for this year are shown on the map above/below.

Prescribed Burning at Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge

A fire sounded inviting on a cold February day, and that was exactly what firefighters with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were wanting. After a wet December and January, the Service was hoping the recent blast of cold air would help dry out the vegetation and allow fire staff to conduct prescribed burning on Cedar Island and other national wildlife refuges in northeastern North Carolina. On November 5 and 6, the Service was able to conduct two successful days of prescribed burning at Cedar Island in one of the highest priority burn areas for eastern North Carolina refuges. The prescribed burns, intentionally set under specific conditions, reduced the build-up of hazardous fuels around the community of Cedar Island and improved the health of marsh and woodlands in the burn units.

Firebreaks across Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge received extensive site preparation in late October to prepare for the prescribed burning season and aid in suppression of any wildfires that might occur in the coming year. On the heels of this effort, a weather forecast predicted several days of favorable conditions for prescribed burning, and a fire crew from 5 national wildlife refuges traveled to Cedar Island with three engines and several pieces of tracked equipment. A contract helicopter and pilot flew in to meet them for the burn. Natural resource personnel from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station assisted with the burns and local North Carolina Forest Service personnel were available as contingency or back-up resources. The Cedar Island Volunteer Fire Department also served as a contingency resource, and the department’s water tower served as an engine refill location. Over two days, fire staff burned a total of 1,014 acres in 6 burn units located in the northwest corner of the refuge. On November 7, the weather took an abrupt change from what had been predicted and rain brought an end to the burning.

Overall, the prescribed burns in November went well. The vegetation did prove a little wetter than expected, lowering the fire intensity which, in turn, did not generate as much smoke lift as was expected. A ½ mile section of Highway 12 experienced some visibility impairment from smoke, but because smoke management was included in the prescribed fire plan for each unit, the fire crew knew how to respond. They quickly placed signs and used flashing lights on vehicles to warn motorists of the smoke and slow them down. The smoke incident lasted about 1.5 hours on Sunday with an additional incident on Monday which lasted approximately the same amount of time.

Getting personnel to Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, which has only one permanent staff person, was logistically challenging due to a 3-4 hour drive from the nearest refuges. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service District Fire Management Officer Tom Crews stated that prescribed burning at Cedar Island could be “an expensive proposition because of the distance for hauling equipment and using a helicopter, but the investment pays off to help protect the communities from wildfires.”

Additional prescribed burns are planned for the refuge between now and September 2007 (shown on the accompanying map), depending on weather conditions and prescribed burning needs on other national wildlife refuges. These prescribed burns will reduce fuel build-up and wildfire risk to additional areas around Cedar Island and Atlantic communities, as well as improve wildlife habitat on the refuge. Please direct comments or questions on prescribed burning at Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge to Refuge Manager Bruce Freske at (252) 926-4021.