The Island Fire: What Really Happened?

The fire raged through the night and was seen for miles around the Coastal South. Pictures began emerging of the island engulfed in flames and four days later, Myrtle Island has nearly burned out. Jason Lee, Wildlife Conservation Program Manager of the Georgia DNR, slowed down just long enough to update us on the island fire. 

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR), it was elected to allow Sunday’s fire on Myrtle Island, one of the small hammocks that make up the Little Tybee Island complex, to continue to burn. This decision was made in consultation with the Georgia Forestry Commission, Chatham Emergency Management Agency, and Tybee Island Fire Department. About 25 acres in total, Myrtle Island is just one of several beach facing smaller islands in the Little Tybee complex.

"There are a few stumps left smoking, but over 90% of the island burned, so we’re sure that the fire is almost out,” commented Jason Lee on Wednesday morning. 

“Fire is an integral part of ‘early successional’ coastal habitats,” explained Lee, of the dune and edge maritime forest habitat of Coastal Georgia which, according to the DNR have evolved to benefit from periodic fire and other disturbances such as hurricane force winds and floods. These ‘early successional’ habitats are some of the most biodiverse, important environs on the Georgia Coast. "Preferentially this is accomplished through controlled burning, not wildfire that can be damaging and dangerous if atmospheric conditions are not optimal." 

“It sort of resets the vegetation so that you don’t have the larger trees and thicker vegetation,” continued Lee. “That habitat is optimal for several coastal species. Lots of bird species such as painted buntings prefer it.” 

According to Lee, most of the wildlife directly affected would had fled the island once the fire started or sought shelter in the marsh. The larger animals such as whitetail deer would have disbursed to adjacent islands. “Most of the critters and wildlife that were there would just be able to make it to one of these other nearby islands,” he added.  

It is believed the fire was a result of a campfire on the island. “There were actually campers nearby about an hour before the fire became visible,” explained Lee. "It was a clear day with no lightning strikes, so we assume that was the likely ignition source. It could have been a cigarette butt or an intentional fire, but we know that it is a popular spot for campers so we’d like to assume it wasn’t intentionally set." 

The Tybee Island Fire Department reported that no one was on the island at the time of the fire and there were no injuries.

Lee noted that the DNR is intending to do a controlled burn on one of the islands south of Myrtle within the next few weeks and will be working with the local authorities to alert the public. 


photo: Brandon Hower



photo: Duion Furgason






photoS: Leandra Speegle



PHOTO courtesy of DNR