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

June 2, 2009

Controlled Burn is Follow-up to Recent Wildfire on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Fire crews from Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges successfully conducted a 2000-acre controlled burn at the Northwest Mashoes burn unit on the heels of the Southwest Mashoes wildfire response on Monday, June 1. Fire Management Officer Tom Crews said, "From a strategic standpoint, with public safety as a primary focus, we really couldn't pass up the opportunity to get this area burned out. The wildfire and suppression efforts created ideal conditions for this prescribed fire. " Including this burn, fire crews from Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges have conducted thirty-three prescribed burns during the 2009 season for a total of 21,410 acres (33 1/2 square miles) on six different National Wildlife Refuges in eastern North Carolina.

Greg Suszek from Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge directed the burn using two wildland fire engines, a marshmaster, a boat with portable pumps and a helicopter with aerial ignition device to burn the area on the west side of Mashoes Road and east of the shoreline at East Lake, between Mashoes and the Ed Sawyer Firebreak. Eleven personnel from the NC Forest Service participated in the burn, and the Manns Harbor Volunteer Fire Department stood by as a contingency force.

Crews explained, "Our fire crews were able to take advantage of the new firebreak created by the Southwest Mashoes Road Wildfire that occurred Saturday and conduct a controlled burn in this area that we have been waiting to burn for the past eight years. In the past, it has been too wet to burn in the western part of the Mashoes Compartment during the normal prescribed burning season. This time, all the conditions lined up for our guys to go in and do the job, and they did it professionally and efficiently. With favorable weather for fire behavior and smoke management on Monday, they pulled off this historic burn."

Crews added, "Our neighbors living in Mashoes can sleep better now, knowing that they are safer from wildfires than they have been in many years. Prior to Monday, we have had 'perfect storm' conditions for many, many, years - set up for a wildfire burning from the south and impacting this community. It was fortunate that a lightning or arson event never coincided with a strong, dry southwest winds. However, with the extremely dense shrub and pine litter accumulated in woods just south of these homes, it was just a matter of time before a wildfire occurred. A common saying we hear as we go around the country from Florida to Washington State responding to fires impacting communities just like Mashoes is that 'We never thought it would happen to us!' It's sad to talk to people who are picking their personal belongings from the smoldering remains of their homes after a fire."

Alligator River Deputy Refuge Manager Scott Lanier, who approved the burn plan, was elated at the results. "We're doing our best to be good neighbors by looking out for the safety of the homes in our neighboring communities. This was the first pocosin burn ever conducted on Alligator River during what is considered the lightning season. Though biologically, this timing is perfect, it's usually just not safe enough to try it. We were fortunate to be able to bring a lot of good out of a bad situation this time around."

Burn Boss Suszek flew the area on Tuesday morning to evaluate residual smoke and burning. He was surprised to see only minimal amounts of residual burning. "We got our crews out early this morning to continue mopping up the edges of the burn where there were smoldering logs and other woody material, especially along the canal banks. We will continue to monitor and mop up until we declare the fire out. With the wind changing direction and intensifying this afternoon, we will continue to keep a close eye out for flare-ups along the containment lines," he stated.

Most of the smoke from the burn went as high as 5000 feet, well above the predicted mixing height of 2500 feet and caught transport winds blowing to the north, while lower smoke was transported to the west. Smoke signs remain in place on Mashoes Road, and residents and travelers are urged to slow down to accommodate for smoky conditions if encountered in the area.

Alligator River Fire Control Officer Donnie Harris, who was instrumental in planning and implementing the Northwest Mashoes prescribed burn added, "It really feels good to complete one of the two highest priority controlled burns on this refuge. Mashoes, like the other high priority project 'North Stumpy Point Compartment' was a project we have been planning for many years. Now, we want to get the pocosin fuels burned between Stumpy Point Village Firebreak and Point Peter Road so that those residents will also know they are safer from the effects of wildfires."

Helicopter high above trees and the entire sky behind it is solid smoke
Helicopter close-up with man hanging half way out of it, pointing towards the ground.
Bell 206 L3 (Long Ranger) helicopter provided the needed air support for both the Southwest Mashoes Road Wildfire and the Northwest Mashoes Prescribed Burn earlier this week. In both fires, aerial ignition played a crucial role in accomplishing the goals and keeping local communities safe.
Photo Credits: Robbie Shackleford, North Carolina Division of Forest Resources.

Vegetation scattered with fires - aerial view
An aerial view of the fire. Photo Credit: USFWS, Tom Crews.