Fire Management on Isle Royale

A team of five wildland firefighters wearing hard hats, yellow shirts, and green pants, work to manage a small ground fire smoldering in the brush.
Monitoring fire allows firefighters to make informed fire management decisions.


Fire management is the process of planning, preventing, and fighting wildfires to protect and preserve people, property, and natural resources. Fire management activities may also include the use of prescribed fire to meet land management objectives. Isle Royale manages both natural-caused and human-caused fires.

A tall water sprinkler set up next to two brown three sided camping shelters, spraying water around the campground.
Firefighters may use tools like hoses and sprinklers to create defensible space around structures.


Fire and Wilderness

Wildland fire has great potential to change landscapes and does so often. However, fire is also a critical natural disturbance agent, meaning it can sometimes be a necessary and beneficial natural process in an ecosystem. For these reasons, managing fire is complex.

Isle Royale is a wilderness. Approximately 99 percent of the park's land base has a federal wilderness designation. This designation influences how wildland fire is utilized and managed within the park, from the types of tools used to the suppression tactics deployed. Isle Royale's Fire Management Plan was written in accordance with wilderness regulations.

A group of firefighters gather around a fire hose next to a small brush fire.
Firefighter safety is the highest priority of every fire management activity.


Fire Management Plan

In order to manage wildland fire, Isle Royale National Park employs a Fire Management Plan (2.4MB PDF). The scope of the Fire Management Plan goals includes:

  • Prevent all wildland fire related injuries to personnel and the public by providing information and closing areas of the park as needed.
  • To the extent possible, allow fire to play its role as a natural disturbance agent.
  • Use appropriate methods of fuel management to reduce risk of fires in interface areas adjoining NPS infrastructure or inholdings/life leases.

Fire Management Units (FMU)

Two fire management units have been identified at Isle Royale. They are the Suppression FMU, and the Wildland Fire FMU. In a Suppression FMU, all fires will be suppressed using the appropriate management response. This unit contains park infrastructure, concessionaire facilities, and life lease areas.

In a Wildland Fire FMU, Isle Royale uses a strategic plan to manage the resource benefits of wildland fire as a natural disturbance agent, meaning lightning-caused fires will be permitted to burn with oversight and within certain parameters. Human-caused fires will be extinguished. The Wildland Fire FMU comprises a majority of the island. If a fire within a Wildland Fire FMU threatens to burn over into a Suppression FMU, firefighters would set up firelines and create defensible space around developed areas.

A map of Isle Royale showing Suppression Fire Management Units and Wildland Fire Use Fire Management Units.
The Wildland Fire FMU comprises most of the island.


A large pile for organic material burns in a large clearing. Thick white smoke rises.
All maintenance burns are closely monitored.

NPS / Marcus Tanskanen

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire. Under Isle Royale's Fire Management Plan, the use of prescribed fire is authorized.

Isle Royale Fire Management has utilized prescribed fire infrequently. However, the use of the prescribed fire could potentially be expanded if future research and monitoring indicates the need.

Maintenance Burning

Different from prescribed fire, Isle Royale utilizes maintenance burning for fuel management. Pile burning is used to dispose of flammable, woody materials to reduce fuel concentrations for facilities and resource management. For a pile burning operation, hazardous fuels are removed and gathered at designated locations to be burnt. Pile burns may take place throughout the summer season at Mott Island, Rock Harbor, and Windigo.

Isle Royale National Park

Last updated: September 13, 2023