A Prescribed Burn Lessens the Potential Spread of a Wildfire

July 2, 2008

Lightning was the probable cause of a May 25 wildfire that started in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Illinois, burning 66 acres of public land managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 9 acres of adjacent private land. 

The fire began on the refuge’s 9,857-acre Lost Mound Unit, which sits adjacent to an area that refuge firefighters had recently treated with a prescribed burn. The treated parcel prevented the wildfire from spreading to 4,000-acres of grasslands to the south. However, the wildfire spread north into an area that had not been treated and onto bordering private land, threatening four empty warehouses and some rail cars stored near the railroad tracks. The fire was extinguished by the Hanover Fire Protection District, and did not damage either the warehouses or rail cars,

Prior to becoming a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 2003, the site was operated by the U.S. Department of Defense and had been a weapons depot and an artillery proving and testing facility from 1918-1919.  Because of the potential for unexploded ordnance, the refuge is restricted from disturbing the ground with disking or mowing firebreaks. In some areas, only grass serves as a buffer between refuge land and private property. To lessen the risk of future wildfires spreading onto private land, refuge firefighters will continue to conduct prescribed burning along boundary areas to reduce flammable vegetation.

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