Fire Management


Fire is an essential part of the Refuge ecosystem - it creates biological diversity.

Prescribed fire or prescribed burning is wildland fire that is planned, ignited, and managed by professional fire managers. Managed fire is used to reduce wildfire risks and benefit natural resources by thinning overgrown vegetation. A prescribed burn plan is written well in advance of each planned event and must be approved by agency managers prior to any ignition. A prescribed fire is only allowed under specific conditions, depending upon available resources, time of year, weather and desired results.

Fire has played a key role in the island’s history, and controlled fire can be used to manage the island’s habitats to benefit wildlife and to protect island facilities. A system of regularly scheduled prescribed burns every 5 to 10 years will control natural succession to maintain sea oats. Also, upland habitats infested with exotic plant species will be prescribed burned as needed to control plant regeneration and remove dead biomass.

Egmont Key NWR is located within the undisputed lightning capital of the North America. The coastal scrub that was the original habitat land cover on the island is very pyrogenic and undoubtedly burned frequently. Fires, both natural and human caused, were rampant on the island during settlement years. A large fire was recorded in September 1891, when a coal shed spontaneously combusted near the lighthouse. The Keeper and his family had to flee to the mainland until fire suppression support arrived 3 days later. 

Since the abandonment of Fort Dade in 1923, wildfires from arson and lightning have swept the island on a few occasions. A large fire occurred on April 25, 1925, when federal agents started grass fires to smoke out smugglers and illegal immigrants. This fire destroyed eight homes, a coal storage facility, and the large ice house/ power plant. In 1975, a lightning-caused fire swept across most of the island and consumed the remaining combustible materials left from Fort Dade. The fire destroyed much of the lower shrub understory and killed several palm trees. In recent years, there have been several small wildfires. Three of them were on southern end of the refuge in the vicinity of the pilot compound and may have posed a serious threat to the facilities there. An arson fire in 1995 destroyed the tile roof and consumed all flammable materials from the Egmont Key Guard House, which was the last intact structure from that period.