St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Fire – Beneficial to Wildlife and People

Fire Control. Credit: USFWS

Fire is a powerful natural part of the ecosystems in North America.  On St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, fire is ignited two different ways.  The first way is unplanned fires ignited by lightning.  These unplanned fires are called wildfires.  The second way is planned fires ignited by the refuge fire staff called prescribed fires.



Before St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the local area were altered with roads, lightning would ignite fires that could burn throughout various habitats.  Now when lightning starts a fire, the refuge fire staff decides where to stop the wildfire.  We use tactics that minimize damage to the land.  These tactics may include using water, building control lines or using a controlled fire called a back fire against the wildfire. 


Prescribed Fires

Since the land has been altered, planned fires called prescribed fires or controlled burns are ignited by refuge fire staff to mimic the lightning fires.   Mimicking the lightning fires with prescribed fires achieves the same results.  Fire reduces the amount of live and dead leaves from flammable fire-dependent plants, which reduces the potential damage of a wildfire.  Any time you visit the refuge, remember that the fire staff could be burning near where you are visiting.  Signs will be up to notify you of the prescribed fire operation in progress.

Areas on St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge that are scheduled for prescribed fire operations (map).


Wildland Urban Interface

The what?  The Wildland urban interface is where the wildlands or natural lands meet homes and businesses.  For ideas on how to protect your home follow the link to


Habitat Enhancement and Rejuvenation

Fire opens up the ground cover to bare mineral soil, so that the plant seeds can have space to germinate. 


Diversity of Habitat

Fire promotes plant diversity in the habitat, which offers a range of food sources for the animals and birds that live in or migrate through St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.


Learning about Fire

A trail behind the Visitor Center at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge can lead you to Scott’s Plots.  As you stand in the center of four 2-acre plots, you can see the difference in the plant response to using fire at different times of the year.  (Can we link to the brochure the teachers made last year?) and ( some pictures of the plots?)


Other Helpful Links 

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fire Management

National Fire News

National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Glossary of Wildland Fire terms

North Florida Weather


Last updated: August 17, 2010