The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to conduct a prescribed burn at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge this week. Approximately 4,800 acres of native grassland will be burned to maintain fire’s role within the fire adapted landscape and to enhance a diversity of habitat types on the Refuge by creating a mosaic of burned and unburned areas within the project area. The McKensie North burn unit, where the burn will occur, is located on the northeast side of the Refuge, approximately two miles south of Highway 60.
Interagency cooperators will assist in implementing the burn, providing equipment and qualified firefighters. A new tool available to fire managers will also be utilized, an aerial ignition unit. An IGNIS equipped M600 drone will ignite the interior of the unit by dropping plastic spheres that will ignite when they land on the ground.
“By using a combination of ground resources to burn off of roads and the drone lighting the interior, we will be able to limit the amount of hazardous exposure to firefighters,” said Cass Palmer, Zone Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It also gives fire managers another option of aerial ignition instead of utilizing helicopters which increases the risk and exposure of pilots and firefighters. The safety aspect and the cost effectiveness of utilizing the drone make this potentially a very valuable tool for use in prescribed fire.”
It is expected to take one day to implement the burn and resources will remain on-scene monitoring as long as needed. The burn will produce a smoke column that will be visible throughout the Rio Grande valley. Public traveling on Interstate 25 will notice smoke to the east of the Interstate and travelers on Highway 60 will notice smoke south of the highway. Once the unit is ignited, it is expected that the light grass fuels will burn out rapidly and smoke should dissipate quickly when completed.
This burn will be implemented under a strict set of weather parameters to provide for the publics and firefighters safety. During the prescribed fire operation, the area of the burn will temporally be closed to the public however, open areas of the Refuge will remain open to public visitation.