Recent Smoke Raises Eyebrows at Busy Florida Homeport

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Recent prescribed wildfire burns near Port Canaveral caused some travelers to be concerned as they departed on their cruises over the weekend, though the port was at no risk and the fires were kept under constant control and monitoring.

In total, 5,000 acres were burned on March 16-17 as part of refuge management, and the billowing clouds of smoke caused quite a spectacle when seen from the cruise port.

Wildfire Burns Send Smoke Over Cruise Port

A pair of controlled burns to manage land in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge sent strong plumes of smoke into the air on Saturday and Sunday, March 16-17, with dark, billowing clouds easily visible from the cruise terminal as a total of nine different cruise ships were turning around guests over the weekend.

On Saturday, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Fantasy, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom and Mardi Gras, and Royal Caribbean International’s Mariner of the Seas were all docked. On Sunday, MSC Cruises’ MSC Seashore, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic were in port.

Saturday’s burn, though larger, did not produce the copious, billowing smoke that caused greater concern during Sunday’s burn. Throughout the day on Sunday, large plumes were clearly visible, and from some angles, could seem as though fire was threatening the cruise port.

Port Canaveral, Florida
Port Canaveral, Florida (Photo Credit: Robert Michaud)

To be clear, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is north and east of Port Canaveral, and cruise ships do not enter the refuge. At no time do burns planned at the refuge pose any threat to the cruise port, and even with heavy smoke, port operations are not affected and no cruise ships were delayed.

About the Burns

The planned burns encompassed 4,000 acres on Saturday and another 1,000 acres on Sunday. Both burns were fully controlled and executed as expected as part of land management at the refuge.

The Brevard County Emergency Management Office sent out notices on social media alerting residents to the burns, ensuring that everyone was aware of the activities, which closed parts of the refuge. Of course, travelers arriving at the port would not be aware of those local alerts and therefore the fires could have caused some concern.

In total, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 140,000 acres of estuaries, marshes, scrub, and other habitats, with more than 1,000 plant species and roughly 550 animal species. The refuge is a popular destination for wildlife watching, hiking, fishing, boating, photography, and other activities, including hunting during appropriate seasons.

Read Also: Amazing Things to Do in Port Canaveral

Controlled burns, also called prescribed burns, are regularly set to manage the refuge lands and promote healthier habitats. Such burns clear out dead underbrush and permit new growth that will support better diversity of plants and animals at the refuge, as well as help prevent the spread of uncontrolled wildfires that might threaten nearby communities.

These burns are scheduled whenever necessary, and are typically on a 1-5 year cycle, depending on growth. In order for a burn to proceed, wind and weather conditions must be appropriate so the fire will not get out of control. Burns can be scheduled on any day of the week if conditions are right.

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