Prescribed Fire Restores Cultural Landscape at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

During October 2014, wildland firefighters from the National Park Service at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (NPS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Great Lakes Agency partnered to conduct a prescribed fire at Devils Island Light Station. The fire helped maintain the view to and from the light tower, which still serves as a guidepost to lake mariners. The NPS is working to maintain and restore resilient landscapes.

“This practice of burning helps maintain the view to and from the light tower, which still serves as a guidepost to lake mariners.” Tom Ulrich

View of small structure, lake, and burned area from high vantage point.
Post-burn view of the prescribed fire unit from the top of the Devils Island Light Station.

NPS / Apostle Islands park staff

Pile burn near base of lighthouse.
The Devils Island Light Station will be more visible to boats in Lake Michigan with the buildup of fuels removed from its base.

BIA / Sawyer Grooms

The tiny flame of a lighthouse oil lamp used to warn ships away from the treacherous rocks of Devils Island in Lake Michigan. But now, another flame is being used to help keep these historic light station grounds trim and free of woody overgrowth.

During the week of October 20-24, 2014, wildland firefighters from the National Park Service at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (NPS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Great Lakes Agency (BIA) partnered to conduct a prescribed fire at Devils Island Light Station. Power saws were used to prepare the site, removing heavy brush and piling it for burning. Dave Pergolski, BIA burn boss, provided oversight. Eight NPS and BIA firefighters worked together to light piles, protect historic structures, and carefully control the burn.

Acting Superintendent Tom Ulrich stated, “The operation was a great success, with good consumption of all piled material. This practice of brushing and burning helps maintain the viewshed to and from the light tower, which, with a modern solar-powered lamp, still serves as a guidepost to lake mariners.”

The project’s primary goal was restoration of the cultural landscape of this 1890s lighthouse, following an NPS Cultural Landscape Report developed in 2011. Fire was selected as the most cost-effective way of disposing of the heavy brush, augmented by heavy-duty brush mowers to keep the historic landscape clear. Prescribed burning of portions of the light station grounds could become a regular practice in the future, with firefighters traveling to this remote and historic island in their unusual role of “keepers of the light.”

Contact: Damon Panek, Park Ranger, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (715) 779-3398