Firefighters Protect Home of Florida Panther

April 2009

When east winds blew embers April 23 from a large, fast-moving wildfire onto the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, its fire crew moved into action against the advancing flame front.  Besides intense fire activity encroaching on habitat for one of the nation’s most endangered species, smoke from the Deep Fire hampered travel on Florida’s “Alligator Alley” Interstate 75 connecting the west and east sides of the Florida Panhandle. 

The refuge’s fire crew of nine, with the help of firefighters from A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, National Park Service, State of Florida, and local fire departments, used a half dozen fire engines to conduct a large “burn out” operation. By the following day, they had safely removed a 1600-acre strip of flammable vegetation about 2 miles long. The tactic prevented further spread of fire onto the 26,400-acre refuge, located about 20 miles east of Naples.

“We already have established trails and roads, which we maintain year-round and are able to use as firebreaks,” said refuge Fire Management Officer Kim Ernstrom. “This greatly contributed to us being able to conduct the burn.”

The Deep Fire, started by lightning on Big Cypress National Preserve on April 21, grew to more than 30,000 acres before being contained on May 9. Total suppression costs exceeded $2 million.

Firefighters from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service watch for spot fires during a burn out operation to protect refuge lands from the advancing Deep Fire. Photo credit: Josh O'Connor, USFWS


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Last Updated: 4/29/2009