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75 acres scorched in 3 hours: controlled burn on Penikese Island visible for miles

Smoke and flames on Penikese Island were visible for miles Wednesday, but there was no emergency. It was the result of a controlled burn of the 75-acre island by the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The burn is designed to improve habitat for many plant and animal species and new research shows it may also help control parasites.

Jim Newman, a board member of the Penikese Island School, was on the island as the burn was done.

“The point of it is to preserve the habitat as very amenable to migratory birds, sea birds, particularly. It's a really wonderful thing to do for the land. We did it last year and in the space of maybe two weeks in April, it goes from looking all charred to looking incredibly verdant."

Newman described the experience of being on the island as the fire burned.

"It was pretty wild. It was almost like being in a fog with the smoke. You're surrounded by fire on three sides. It was remarkably quick. The 75-acre island, in the space of three hours it all got burned."

The Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife says fire, once thought to destroy natural habitat, can be used strategically to improve habitat. Controlled burns such as the one on Penikese, can be, “essential for maintaining and restoring native grasslands. Fire recycles nutrients tied up in old plant growth, controls woody plant encroachment, and stimulates germination and growth of many uncommon and rare fire-adapted plants.”

Smoke from the Penikese fire was visible all across Buzzards Bay.

Penikese, a 75-acre island near the west end of the Elizabeth Islands chain, is part of the town of Gosnold and has no inhabitants.