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 8, 2010

Ready Reserve Program Exercise- A Wildlands/Community Fire Drill

On a recent Friday/Saturday in January, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge hosted a "Ready Reserve Program Exercise" for mainland Dare County to plan and practice communications and strategies for fighting a large-scale fire. The goal was to bring together various local agencies and organizations that would have a role to play in fighting a fire in the magnitude of the Evans Road Fire which occurred on and adjacent to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in June, 2008. As a part of the exercise, field teams visited several sites where wildlands were adjacent to homes and/or businesses and participated in scenarios to strategize protecting the community.

Dallas Gray, from the Stumpy Point Volunteer Fire Department, praised the efforts of the organizers. "It was a great idea to get all these folks together to build relationships before we have all the stress of a huge fire. Everyone seemed to learn a lot, and we had a good time in the process," he said.

Kelley Van Druten, primary organizer for the exercise, is the Refuge's Wildland Urban Interface Specialist. It is her job to coordinate with local communities and provide assistance to ensure they have the information, training, and equipment they need to do their jobs in protecting homes and other structures. Often, she works with Volunteer Fire Departments. "It's so important that we stay connected with local communities. They're our neighbors, and we do what neighbors should do - we look out for each other. If we did not have the support from our local Volunteer Fire Departments, crucial components of the firefighting teams would be missing. So, when I find out there is grant money available for training, equipment, or anything else, I do my best to make sure our neighbors get their fair share," she explained.

A big part of the exercise was providing training about the Incident Management System, which is a national organizational structure for incident management. After the bombing of the National Trade Centers, this system was mandated by the President as the national approach to critical incident management. Now, all Federal agencies and most State agencies use the system, which provides consistent terminology, training, and qualification requirements for positions within the system. The system has been used successfully at all levels of complexity for handling critical incidents including explosions, earthquakes, and hurricanes, as well as fighting wildfires.

Refuge Fire Management Officer Tom Crews was pleased with the response to the exercise. "We know it's not a matter of 'if' we get a big fire here - it's a matter of 'when'. We're working really hard using prescribed fire to reduce fuel levels on the refuge, so a wildlife would be manageable. But there is still a lot of fuel out there. And, when it's dry, it's really dry. Building relationships with people you'll be fighting fires with has been proven to be the best investment you can make for safety. After this exercise, I think we all feel a bit more confident about how we would approach fighting a large wildfire on the Dare County mainland."

Included in the exercise were the Volunteer Fire Departments from Manns Harbor and Stumpy Point, the Dare County Fire Marshall and Emergency Management Director, the North Carolina Forest Service, and Dare Sheriff's Department, as well as staff from both Pocosin Lakes and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges. In addition to having numerous participants, the North Carolina Forest Service also assisted in facilitating the exercise.

For additional information or questions, contact Kelley Van Druten at 252-473-1131 ext 235 or Kelley_VanDruten@fws.gov.

Scott Lanier and Ed Christopher
Agency Administrators Scott Lanier, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Ed Christopher, NC Division of Forest Resources, welcome emergency responders to a Friday night training session as part of a Wildland Fire Exercise hosted by Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: FWS, Bonnie Strawser.

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As part of a Wildland Fire Exercise hosted by Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, members of the Manns Harbor VFD, Stumpy Point VFD, US Fish & Wildlife Service and the NC Division of Forest Resources spent a Saturday morning discussing tactics for protecting homes in Manns Harbor from a large scale wildfire while ensuring firefighter and public safety. Photo credit: FWS, Bonnie Strawser.