Complex Burning a Success at Research Refuge

June 2009

Situated just miles away from the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland is a tricky place to conduct prescribed burning because of concerns with putting smoke into the air in heavily populated locations. However, in late March and early April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of interagency partners was able to burn two areas of the refuge designated to study the effect of fire on an invasive plant and to maintain grassland habitat for breeding birds. The refuge, nestled between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, is the only refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System established to support wildlife research.

For both burns, the Burn Boss assigned a person to monitor the smoke column to ensure it did not blow into local communities or impair visibility on the Baltimore Washington Parkway, which lies within a quarter of a mile of both burns.  Firefighters were prepared to extinguish the fire if necessary, but favorable weather conditions lifted and dispersed smoke resulting in no smoke intrusion into neighboring communities or on the parkway.  These conditions, along with advance notice to local and metropolitan media outlets, resulted in no complaints from the public.

Refuge managers had planned for 4 years to burn the two units, 30 acres of grassland and 15 acres of pine and oak forest. Due to limitations on needing the exact right weather conditions for proper smoke dispersal and the necessary conditions to achieve the resources goals of the burn, timing was critical. Even if weather conditions are perfect, personnel and equipment may not be available.  An ample contingent of firefighters stayed vigilant during the effort to both conduct the burn and monitor weather conditions for smoke impacts. Firefighters from the National Park Service, the State of Maryland, and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps joined firefighters from the Service to complete the burns.

  marshmaster   firefighter  
  The Marshmaster from Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge assists in holding the line.
photo by: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
The Burn Boss for a prescribed burn walks the edge of the fire.
photo by: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS



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