Wildfire Suppression

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Merritt Island NWR has averaged 10 wildfires per year over the last 10 years for an average of 2,105 acres per year.


Central Florida is the lightning capitol of the United States and therefore the refuge experiences frequent wildfires. Spring months typically see the most wildfire activity. Cold fronts moving through from the northwest as the season begins to change often bring many lightning strikes with little precipitation. Fire personnel monitor precipitation totals and the drought index year-round and prepare for response accordingly.

During storms, weather radars with lightning indicators are monitored to determine the most likely location of a wildfire if indeed a dry front passes through. Aerial reconnaissance is sometimes completed to ensure all is clear before releasing fire staff for the day.

When a wildfire is spotted or reported, firefighters respond to “size up” the fire and determine what resources are needed. Once the fire is "sized up" refuge fire fighters begin "initial attack".

They use a variety of specialized fire equipment including type 6 engines, UTV's ,tractor plow units, a Marsh Master (tracked fire engine), and a Type 3 fire engine. Refuge fire fighters assigned to the engines deploy heavy duty hoses attached to water tanks and/or use hand tools to contain.

Other forms of initial attack are sometimes necessary for larger fires. A fire line can be plowed, with the tractor plow, a safe distance out ahead of the fire to remove fuels from the fire’s path, and then a back fire can be set to burn towards the approaching wildfire.

If needed aerial firefighting equipment such as airtankers or helicopters can be ordered to drop fire retardant, use water buckets, or even drop "ping pong balls” (ignition spheres that combust when they hit the ground). A birds-eye view is also extremely beneficial when planning the course of attack on a wildfire.