Dismal Swamp fire now largest in refuge’s history

Dismal Swamp fire now largest in refuge’s history

13 August 2011

published by www.hamptonroads.com

USA — At more than 5,500 acres, the Dismal Swamp wildfire officially became the largest in recent history as of Friday, but it was by no means the largest to scorch that land.

A fire raged for three years – from 1923 to 1926 – long before it became the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.

The Great Conflagration consumed nearly 100,000 acres, or 150 square miles, after it was sparked by logging debris at a time when there was extensive logging in the forest.

For perspective, the refuge is 112,000 acres.

At the time, “yellow peat smoke filled the air around Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk,” said Catherine Hibbard, a spokeswoman for the Southern Area Incident Management Blue Team, a collection of agencies.

The latest fire has destroyed about 9 square miles and is still only 10 percent contained in an area about nine miles southeast of the city.

Firefighting efforts are still building as the number of people on the ground and in the air has grown to 230.

On Friday, crews installed pumps to flood ditches in and around the center and north portions of the blaze, which is hugging Lake Drummond in the middle of the refuge and crossed into North Carolina several days ago.

So far, 5,585 acres had burned – down slightly from previous estimates that put it closer to 6,000 acres. Smoke had obscured getting more exact numbers until Friday, fire officials said.

The fire was sparked by lightning and was first spotted Aug. 4. The blaze,

which moved into hardwood trees, slowing it down, is between a mile and a half to two miles from Desert Road in Suffolk, where there are homes.

Firefighters established a fire line along an inside road parallel to Desert Road, and they planned to pump water from the lake into the westernmost part of the refuge, fire officials said Friday afternoon.

Also, fire crews were working on protecting structures at a camping area to the east of the fire near Cedar Ditch that included a historic building and a shed, Hibbard said. They were going to wrap them in fire-resistant material that looks like tin foil, she said.

Fire smoldering in the thick, organic soil, or peat, is causing the smoke-out Hampton Roads and North Carolina residents have had to endure for the past few days, and it’s the toughest part of the fire to fight.

On Friday afternoon, winds pushed smoke to the west, meaning Suffolk residents and those west of the fire saw an increase, according to fire personnel.

That smoke will continue to shift depending on the direction of the wind.

The weather forecast shows winds will continue to push the smoke northwest and north over the weekend, which means Suffolk residents may not get a reprieve until next week.

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