New York

Wildfire Burns Upstate NY Refuge

April 2010

Just before 4:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, April 4, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge got a call and it wasn’t the Easter Bunny. It was 911 reporting a wildfire on the refuge, right next to the New York State Thruway. 

The 694-acre Dry Marsh Fire started at the end of a wildlife drive, was fueled by dry cattails fanned by stiff winds, and quickly spread to form a 30-foot wall of flames about a mile wide. Flames and smoke, visible up to 100 miles away, attracted an estimated 1,000 people and provided a unique educational opportunity at the visitor’s center that day.

Local volunteer firefighters responded. Because the fire was burning in the marsh, it was inaccessible and dangerous to try to put it out. State Police and other personnel managed traffic as the fire was contained by open water and a series of ditches and canals. About 4:00 p.m., the fire burned itself out.

Conditions were ripe for a fire to burn at the refuge, with temperatures above normal and drier conditions. Biologists were concerned about a pair of bald eagles nesting on a wet island in the marsh. Luckily, the fire burned within 30 feet of the nest and then stopped due to damp soil. Although ash fell on the eagles’ heads, the birds kept incubating. 

Although the refuge is in the middle of one of the most active flight lanes in the Atlantic Flyway, and provides resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, impacts from the fire were minimal because it occurred early in the migration/nesting season. 

For more information, go to

Cattails in an impoundment burn on refuge in Seneca Falls, New York. Bill Stewart, USFWS.

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