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 11, 2007

Little Fields Wildfire on the Dare County Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Declared "Under Control"

"Firefighters setting up hose and sprinklers to pump water onto pockets of burning peat on the Little Fields Wildfire".
Photo credit: Cory Waters, USFWS.


Fire crews from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and cooperator agencies have the Little Fields Wildfire under control after working hard throughout the past two weeks. In spite of “Red Flag Warnings” of extremely dry and windy conditions last week and this past weekend, firefighters made excellent progress on this fire. Little Fields Wildfire resulted after a prescribed fire conducted on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare Bombing Range "left prescription" when the forecast rain did not occur. Though the fire remained within its prescribed boundaries, it was declared a wildfire last week due to the persistence of groundfire within the burn unit.

Incident Commander Tom Crews stated, “The surprise rainfall on Saturday morning, as well as snow flurries throughout the day, was a miracle to me! The National Weather Service had forecast 25 mph winds and a minimum relative humidity of 25% just the preceding day. By Sunday, when the strong winds and very low relatively humidity conditions actually prevailed, our guys had the fire pretty much under wraps.”

The Little Fields Wildfire was originally a prescribed fire that was conducted on March 22 when conditions were ideal for prescribed burning. Fuel moisture was just dry enough to get most of the unit to burn under controlled conditions. However, the following week's predicted rainfall never occurred. Fire settled into the peat soils on the south end of the burn unit, and flare-ups inside this unit caused concern. On March 30, suppression actions were initiated to ensure that the fire remained contained within the roads surrounding this unit. “Once we knew the Little Fields Prescribed Burn Unit was no longer acting within the limits of the plan, we had no choice but to declare it a wildfire”, stressed Scott Lanier, Deputy Project Leader for the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. “It's not common for us to have to declare a prescribed fire a wildfire, but with the need to take aggressive suppression action to keep the fire within the confines of the unit, it was the right thing to do this time. We didn't want to take any chances of the fire escaping with the strong winds forecast. "

US Fish and Wildlife fire crews were supplemented over the past week with four Nature Conservancy Fire Engines from North and South Carolina, as well as a crew of US Forest Service firefighters from the Schenck Job Corp Center, near Asheville, NC. In addition, the North Carolina Forest Service had tractors and firefighters standing by to attack any new fires around the area and to serve as contingency resources if the Little Fields Fire had escaped.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Fire Control Officer Donnie Harris commended the firefighters for an outstanding job in their achievement. “To suppress the Little Fields Fire, our firefighters took a three-fold approach. They began flooding the area by plugging ditches and pumping water in with large volume pumps. While this was going on, others were ‘hot-spotting’ flare-ups inside the unit with special low ground pressure fire tractors. Others came along and installed nearly two miles of fire hose with sprinklers to aid in suppressing the pockets of ground fire. The Job Corps hand crew slowly and methodically “gridded out” the area and mopped up with hand tools, aided by water levels rising within a few inches of the surface from the flooding operations. While the rainfall helped keep the fire from spreading for one day, it did not put out any fire. It took manpower and ingenuity to do that, “replied Harris.

The Little Field Wildfire is now declared controlled. It will not be declared officially “out” until after the next substantial rain event.

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