Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge reopens after weekend wildfire burns 2,000-plus acres

Roads re-opened on Monday after a fast-moving wildfire ripped through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge over the weekend.

Authorities believe lightning sparked the fire, which quickly grew from a few hundred acres to more than 2,000. It mostly burned near the Peacock Pocket marsh wetlands area. 

"That’s 'Mother Nature,' you know; you got to respect it," said Glenda Williams. She came out to the marsh on Memorial Day and loves the area for its natural beauty. 

The fire ignited on Saturday during a strong round of storms. Because it happened so fast, people who saw the bright orange sky engulfed in flames were concerned. 

"That is a big concern here," said Williams. "We have a lot of lightning out here, and we’re always concerned about our property."

Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service say the fire started around 150 acres and grew to 2,500 acres over the weekend. On Monday, the wildlife refuge announced that the fire should burn itself out.

"It was just an unbelievable sight," said one eyewitness who recorded the moment lightning struck the preserve. 


The sight left many worried about the animals left behind in the refuge. 

"We don’t want to lose that," said Williams. 

 Florida Master Naturalist Rebecca Chapman, who also runs an ecotourism business at the wildlife refuge, says the animals adapt.

"As far as the wildlife goes, I didn’t have much concern for them because I know they can handle it," said Chapman. 

During fires like this, animals use gopher tortoise burrows to hide. 

"They wait for the fire to pass overhead. Once it’s over, the circle of life continues once again," said Chapman. 

Fish and Wildlife says the last time this area burned was about three years ago, and the unexpected fire happened in an area with a lot of overgrown brush. 

"It is good for the future. It uses up all that fuel that would otherwise accumulate and create a hotter, longer burning fire later on," said Chapman. 

On Monday, freshly burned charred ground with spots still smoldering could be seen, but West Gator, East Gator, and Catfish Creek access finally re-opened because the fire is under control. 

"We were glad to hear that they were able to get it under control quickly," concluded Williams. 

Kennedy Space Center shares land with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 

Thankfully, none of those facilities were threatened during this wildfire. No one was injured, and no properties were lost in the fire.