Noman’s Land Controlled Burn Was Public Relations Blunder

The smoke may have cleared from the controlled burn performed by the U.S. Navy last Wednesday on Noman’s Land, but questions remain this week as to whether more could have been done to alert the public and prevent the confusion that led to a barrage of calls to the Island communications center.

Officials at the Dukes County communications center last week received between 50 to 100 calls while the fire burned on Noman’s, the small uninhabited island off the southern coast of Chilmark.

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Noman’s Land Burns, Surprising Islanders

Island emergency officials were inundated with calls from concerned residents Wednesday afternoon after a haze of smoke and ash descended on the Island from a brush fire on Noman’s Land, the small uninhabited island off the southern coast of Chilmark.

The fire was part of a controlled burn started by the U.S. Navy to clear away underbrush and expose unexploded ordinances left on Noman’s during training exercises over the past five decades. Noman’s Land is part of the town of the town of Chilmark, but is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Noman’s Land Shows Nature’s a Tough Lover
Accompanying the Fish and Wildlife Service, guardians of the island, on a visit to Noman's Land Island National Wildlife Refuge.
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nomans land
Bombs and Birds: Noman’s Plan Discussed

It has been an unusual past 100 years for Noman’s Land, that half-forgotten rock off Chilmark and Aquinnah that has occasionally reasserted its presence to Vineyarders with wafting smoke clouds and distant bomb blasts. Shrouded in mystery and explosives, it has seen rumrunners, pirates, hurricanes, and even an accidental internecine gun battle between the Coast Guard and the Navy in 1967.

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Noman’s Land Plan Sees Lively Debate

In 1896 William Mayhew escorted a Boston Globe reporter to Noman’s Land to meet the Butlers, the Island’s lone, rather eccentric inhabitants. Mr. Butler, after explaining that their daughter was possessed by the spirit of a Boston milliner and would often race around the house in a fit of hat trimming, conveyed the desolation of the place, perhaps as idiomatically as possible: “We don’t git any news here at this time of year ’ceptin what comes on the wind, and it’s about two months now since we’ve heard from the American Continent.

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