Wednesday, 19 November 2003: 9:00 AM
Fire management in the inter-galatic interface or thirty years of fire management at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Frederic W. Adrian, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Titusville, FL
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on the central east coast of Florida. Most of the fuels found on the refuge burn with high intensity, and many are important habitat for threatened and endangered species. Little fire management occurred until 1981. That year a severe fire season resulted in two fatalities when over 60,000 acres burned in wildfires. An intensive prescribed burning program was initiated after this with the primary objective of the reduction of hazardous fuels. Large tracts, containing several vegetative types were commonly burned during this period. In 1993, more emphasis was placed on using fire to restore and maintain wildlife habitat. Many of the constraints to prescribed burning on the Refuge are similar to those one encounters elsewhere; increasing urbanization in the vicinity, threatened and endangered species concerns, and impacts on visitors and the general public for example. However, the biggest challenge has proven to be conducting a prescribed burning program in and around a space port. Launches at both the Kennedy Space Center and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and landings of the Space Shuttle are sensitive to smoke impacts. Smoke can also impact many of the payloads while they are in processing facilities. As one would expect, both NASA and the Air force have put restrictions on burning operations. When first put forth, these restrictions would have eliminated effective prescribed burning.
Reducing the limitations to prescribed burning took a combination of education, negotiation, external pressure and a bad fire season to accomplish. Key KSC personnel were briefed on the need for fuels reduction prescribed burning in order to minimize potential wildfire impacts on space operations. Mid level managers were taken out on prescribed burns to observe operations. With the support of these managers, a new notification/approval process was developed. This limited the number of KSC personnel with “no-go” authority from almost anyone with a phone, to seven. KSC dispatch also agreed to field most of the casual questions and only forward significant inquires to fire managers at the refuge. Discussions with Hubble Space Telescope personnel reduced the original limit of prohibiting fires within 25 miles of processing areas to a more reasonable six mile zone. Lines of communication were set up so refuge fire personnel could capitalize on any windows during the payload processing time where burning might be possible inside the 6 mile radius. These precedents were followed for other sensitive payloads. The 1998 fire season, during which clean rooms were smoked in for a week underscored the need for fuels management prescribed burning. The coordination between fire managers on space operation managers is a continuing process. The effort required is great, but it allows the refuge to maintain an active prescribed fire program