Inside Region 3
Midwest Region


Seney National Wildlife Refuge:
Pine Creek North Wildfire

Fire photo

Torching on the Pine Creek North Wildfire. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Sara Giles

In the wee hours of the morning on Monday May 21, lighting struck igniting a fire in a section of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, just north of the Fishing Loop. By the time the fire was reported to refuge personnel, at about 2:30 p.m., more than 60 acres had already burned and refuge personnel sprang into action. The fire was promptly accessed, and plans were quickly made to put out the blaze.

Fortunately, refuge staff members are intimately familiar with the area and Seney National Wildlife Refuge Fire Management Officer Gary Lindsey had spent many hours preparing for just such an emergency. Many areas of the refuge have established fire plans which assist with managing an incident such as this. With plan in hand, Lindsey and other fire personnel were able to effectively call in resources and begin to suppress the fire.

Sometimes the safest, easiest, most environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way to extinguish a fire is by conducting burn out operations. A burn out is when firefighters ignite fire inside a control line to consume fuel between the leading edge of the fire and the control line. On the Pine Creek North Fire firefighters used man-made and natural barriers such as streams, ditches, roads, lakes, etc., as control lines. By igniting fire along these features in a purposefully timed and controlled manner, the fire fighters were able to burn out the fuel between these features using fire with less intensity than if the fire had burned up to them unchecked. During the Pine Creek North Wildfire, this practice was used to stop the fire from spreading past the Holland Ditch. The refuge’s pool system and the Fishing Loop road stopped the spread of the fire to the south.

On May 23, the fire made a run that threw burning embers a distance of quarter mile across Pine Creek Road and Pine Creek igniting a spot fire. This occurred before the crews had time to complete the burn out operation along Pine Creek Road.

The spot fire burned 400 acres before it was finally contained. Seven amphibious tracked vehicles, two CL-215 air tankers and a type one helicopter were used to help slow and eventually put out this fire.

An effective technique used when dealing with this portion of the fire was to use compress lines where the tracked vehicles drove over marsh plants and pressed them into the water to help slow the fire’s spread. These compressed lines were then burned out to create a barrier.

Refuge managers also diverted as much water as possible into these wetlands to raise the water levels which helped stop the spread of the fire.

About one and a half weeks after the wildfire began it was listed as contained. In the end, roughly 3,420 acres burned. It is important to remember that wildfire is a natural occurrence and vital for the health of most forests. Wild animals have evolved with fire and, if they are able, they walk, run, fly, swim or dig to escape.

More than a century ago, wildfire spread through this area uncontrolled with few homes or buildings in its path, leaving the area revitalized and new. Today, we control wildfire to stop the damage it may cause to our communities. Fire isn't always bad for our environment; it’s bad for us because we live among landscapes that need fire to survive.

Learn more about the Pine Creek
North Wildfire:

Sara Giles,
Seney NWR



Last updated: October 1, 2012