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Hazardous Fuels Reduction at NASA

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge - 2004

If it were being scored on a scale of 1 to 10, the recent prescribed fire at NASA, conducted by Merritt Island NWR, would be a 10, or pretty close to it.

The 590-acre burn, conducted over a weekend to minimize disruption for NASA personnel, was designed to rid the area of pine and oak scrub undergrowth. It took place within a potentially nerve-wracking half-mile of the area where NASA stores and assembles its space shuttles, and near the power substation and main transmission lines for the space center.

Spencer Woodward, a test director at NASA who has worked with fire managers at the refuge for the past several years, said he took a drive around the burned area with Service personnel and was impressed by the precision.

"It was the first time I'd gone out to see where they burned," he said. "It was pretty amazing. They burned exactly where they said they would and the whole area was lightly singed. They even created a break around a bald eagle nest so they wouldn't disturb it."

Merritt Island is an overlay refuge, meaning that though NASA owns the land, the Fish and Wildlife Service has management responsibility for the refuge proper as well as most of the neighboring property, except for certain industrial areas of the complex. Refuge fire managers burn about 17,000 to 20,000 acres of hazardous fuels annually on these lands using a staff of about a dozen people.

"As you can imagine, we have to do an amazing amount of coordination with NASA when we do these burns because of all the space program equipment and fuel around there," said Glen Stratton, fire management officer at the refuge. "You want to be kind of careful when you're burning around solid rocket fuel storage areas."

By the time this burn was complete, refuge fire staff had burned 9,343 acres of hazardous fuels at Merritt Island and 452 acres at neighboring St. Johns NWR.

Perfect plumes rise from dried grass and brush at NASA during a prescribed burn in mid-February. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge overlays most of the land owned by NASA. (USFWS)

Perfect plumes rise from dried grass and brush at NASA during a prescribed burn in mid-February. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge overlays most of the land owned by NASA. (USFWS)

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