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

April 4, 2007

Prescribed Burn on Dare County Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Declared Wildfire

What began as a very well-planned and much-needed prescribed burn on the Little Fields Units of the Dare County Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has been declared a wildfire by US Fish and Wildlife Service Officials. Refuge Manager Mike Bryant explained, "Because we've had a well-regimented and successful prescribed fire program for the past ten years, the mainland is really getting in better condition to be able to withstand wildfires. But, with the current weather conditions and forecasts for next week, we have our work cut out for us keeping this fire under control. We have ground fire, and ground fire can't ever be taken lightly. But, we have well-trained and experienced crew on-site, we have an approved plan, and we're as prepared as we know how to be."

Eastern North Carolina is experiencing unusually dry springtime weather conditions. Pre-season forecasts projected a "normal spring fire season". When the Little Fields prescribed burn was set on March 22 , about 600 acres were burned. This unit is located near the intersection of US Highway 264 and Navy Shell Road, south of Stumpy Point, North Carolina and is completely bordered by well-maintained roads. Prior to ignition, conditions were finally dry enough to carry the burn, and rain was forecast for the following week. But, that rain did not materialize. Conditions have continued to dry out, and crews began to experience ground fire settling into about ten acres of organic soils along the southern edge of the unit. Extremely low tidal conditions in the sounds also exacerbated drainage. This burn unit was declared a wildfire on March 30, and aggressive suppression action was taken to mop-up a ten-acre pocket of ground fire and smoke that popped up.

Actions taken by firefighters from Alligator River and other refuges in NC on the Little Fields Unit so far have been:

· Actively suppressing flare-ups inside the unit to prevent them from escaping, using tractors, pumps and hoses.
· Plugging the ditches with earthen dams and pumping water to raise the water table inside the unit.
· Mowing lanes in the thick, 12-foot-high gallberry in sections of the unit where the ground fire pockets lay smoldering and setting up sprinklers and hoses to wet down the area.

The crews were making good headway through last weekend. But, as forecast rainfall never materialized, the fuels continued to dry out. With very low humidity and strong winds anticipated for this week, the Refuge has called in outside firefighters to provide local firefighter assistance.

Prescribed burns are conducted on the Refuge each year in order to reduce the growth of volatile shrub and the accumulation of dead fuels that pile up on the ground. The burns must be planned when weather and fuel conditions are dry enough for the fire to burn, but moist enough to maintain control. During normal fire years, there is adequate rainfall to "put the burns to bed". If a burn escapes or burns out of prescription, it is declared a wildfire, and suppression actions are initiated.

Fire Management Officer Tom Crews commented, "Our firefighters are to be commended for an outstanding job in their efforts; however, right now the weather is working against us. In spite of earlier predictions for a normal season, this looks like it has become the driest March that I can remember. We're taking an aggressive suppression strategy on this wildfire, and we're planning contingency measures based on the forecast adverse weather conditions. We hope for the best, but we plan and prepare for the worst when it comes to fire. We have acquired a helicopter to stand by for attack in case this fire breaks out. With these conditions, we could end up with other fires, as well."

The Refuge is working with State and Federal partners to ensure that an appropriate management response can be provided to all wildfires on the Refuges in North Carolina.

For more information contact the Refuge Dispatch Office at 252-473-1744.