Southeast Region Fire Management
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Pad Fire - Managing wildfires around NASA infrastructure

Space Shuttle Atlantis on Pad A with burned area in the background

A view of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Pad A with the Pad fire in the background. Photo: Ryan Sharpe - USFWS

The Pad Fire was started by a lightning strike on the Merritt Island NWR on May 27, 2011.  The fire was initially sized up at ¼ acre with minimal fire behavior in an inaccessible area of the Refuge with no road and no access for Marsh Masters or Tractor Plow units.   The fire was directly between the two NASA Space Shuttle Launch Pads.  It was determined that the type 3 helicopter that was on station for severity would initial attack the fire with bucket drops. 

This was a successful tactic for the conditions that were present at the time.  Firefighters checked the fire the day after the initial bucket drops and no smoke was visible for the next day.  On May 29, 2011 the weather conditions changed with an increase in temperature and winds from the southeast.  The fire increased in size to approximately 5 acres with short runs.  Due to the fact that the Space Shuttle Atlantis was schedule to roll out to Launch Pad A on May 31st the Fire Management Officer Pat Pearson made the decision to burn out the unit to mitigate the smoke impacts to the Launch Pad. 


The crews used the type 3 helicopter with the Red Dragon aerial ignition device burn out the remainder of the burnable vegetation. Firefighters on the ground cleaned up the areas where they could access the fuels.  The burnout operation was very successful with no smoke impacts to the NASA Launch Pads or the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).  The total amount of time for the burnout was approximately 3 hours.  The Space Shuttle Atlantis rolled out on Tuesday May 31st with no visible smoke on the Pad Fire.

An aerial view of the Pad fire

An aerial view of the Pad fire with Space Shuttle Atlantis on Pad A in the background. Ryan Sharpe -USFWS

Last updated: June 16, 2011