Great Dismal Swamp fire contained

Great Dismal Swamp fire contained

21 September 2005

published by home.hamptonroads.com


Hampton Roads residents will continue to awake to the smell of smoke from a burning wildfire as long as winds blow the acrid stench from the Great Dismal Swamp to their front doors, authorities saidTuesday.


Smoke surrounds forest technician Cody Daniels as he walks through a smoldering fire that has spread to more than 100 acres near the Virginia state line. The fire began burning three weeks ago

Fire crews from Chesapeake and the Virginia and North Carolina forestry departments have contained the 113-acre peat fire that continues to blacken vegetation on private property just north of the Virginia state line, south of Ballahack Road and a mile east of U.S. 17.

But there’s nothing authorities can do about the wind and where it takes the distinctive smoke caused by smoldering peat, a thick, partially decayed organic matter that blankets the swamp floor.

“Normally, the ground is wet enough that this doesn’t happen,” said John Miller , director of resource protection for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “But once it dries out, the soil layer itself becomes fuel for the fire.”

 


Forest technician Calvin Ricks wears a bandanna to block the smoke and dust as he uses a bulldozer to contain the smoldering fire on Tuesday. In Chesapeake and the cities around it, people miles away from the blaze have complained about the haze and smell from the smoke

A ground-soaking rain or tropical storm is what’s needed to put out the fire, which began burning on 2 acres three weeks ago after a lightning strike. Miller said the only alternative would be to bring in large pumps to flood the area, at a cost of $1 million .

“It’s one of those things,” he said. “Is it possible? Yes. Is it practical? No.”

So those charged with fighting the fire baby-sit it instead, waiting for Mother Nature to step in.

In Chesapeake and the cities around it, people miles away from the blaze have complained about the haze and smell from the smoke that clings to hair and clothes and makes eyes itchy.

Tuesday afternoon, the smoke hovered over blackened tree stumps, hardwoods and switch cane , turning the charred remains into an otherworldly landscape.

Ground fires in the forested wetlands inside and outside the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge aren’t unusual.

During any given large storm that passes over the refuge, there may be 2,000 to 3,000 lightning strikes on the 111,000 acres that make up the protected area, according to the refuge, which has its own firefighting equipment and firefighters.

“The large trees that are standing will just serve as lightning rods, really, pulling those strikes down,” said Deloras Freeman , a refuge ranger.

“The lightning travels down the tree, ignites the soil, and the soil burnsaway.”


Smoke surrounds forest technician Cody Daniels as he walks through a smoldering fire that has spread to more than 100 acres near the Virginia state line. The fire began burning three weeks ago


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