Wildfire on Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge
The fire, which has been designated “Blackbeard's Revenge”, began as a lightning strike Thursday, July 6. The fire smoldered undetected until Saturday, when it was observed by the captain of a passing barge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel were dispatched to the island Sunday morning, and by Sunday evening, they had contained the fire.
What makes this particular wildfire unique is the fact that it is burning entirely in a federally designated Wilderness area. In 1975, Congress designated 3,000 acres of Blackbeard Island NWR as National Wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964 was established to protect some of the nation’s last remaining wild places for the use and enjoyment of all Americans. The Wilderness area affected by the wildfire on Blackbeard Island NWR contains thick stands of slash pines, with some live oak trees. Dried vegetation, such as Spanish moss, and Palmetto, can act as fuel for the wildfire. Yet, due to its Wilderness status, managers can not send in bull dozers to cut fire-line, isolate and suppress the fire, for to do so would irretrievably scar the landscape. Even the use of some fire retardants can have a serious impact on the salt marsh ecosystem.
“We have to work within the scope of the Wilderness Act when planning our management strategy for this fire,” said Terri Jenkins, Fire Management Officer for the Savannah Coastal Refuges and Incident Commander for the Blackbeard's Revenge Wildfire. “Keeping the fire within the confines of the Wilderness area is one of the priority objectives for this incident.”
Firefighters are getting assistance in their efforts to keep the fire confined to its present location by Mother Nature. The salt marsh on the west side of the fire will prevent the fire from moving in that direction, and the area to the southeast of the fire is dotted with dampened swells,which serve as a natural firebreaks. Firefighters will still monitor these areas.
The refuge is also employing the use of aerial water drops by helicopter on the fire, which has been effective in slowing the progress of the fire. The forecast for the rest of week calls for day-time temperatures to remain in the 90’s, with only a slight chance of rain, so crews will continue to monitor the fire and assess its potential.
“Fire is a normal part of the island’s ecology,” said Refuge Biologist Deb Bernard. “The fact that we are not sending in bulldozers and bombarding the area with fire retardants means that the burned areas will recover naturally. Fire rids the area of choking ground vegetation, dead woody debris and other hazardous fuels, and it will increase forage for many wildlife species. In the long run, this wildfire will be very beneficial to Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge.”
For more information on Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge and a fire update, please visit the website http://www.fws.gov/blackbeardisland/fire.htm
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