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Swamp going strong despite fire

Editor’s note: The Dart is a weekly feature where a reporter throws a dart at a map of Suffolk and finds a story where it lands. This week, it landed in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

A fire that damaged the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge all summer still is smoldering underground, said a swamp official, but he believes there is no longer any threat of the fire spreading.

“There’s still some areas that are smoldering,” said Chris Lowie, refuge manager at the swamp.

The fire was declared controlled last week. It had been burning since June 9, when logging equipment caught fire in the swamp. The fire cost about $10.7 million to fight, Lowie said at last week’s City Council meeting.

“We think the flooding is working that we’ve been doing,” Lowie said. “We don’t feel there’s any threat of the fire expanding or jumping outside the containment box as long as the conditions stay the way they are.”

Although most residents outside the swamp haven’t been bothered by the smoke for quite a while, you can still see and smell smoke at some places inside the refuge, Lowie said.

Despite the fire, the refuge hosted about 54,500 visitors last year, Lowie said. They came for the birding festival, the hunts, and to volunteer, among other things, Lowie said.

Coming up next year, the refuge hopes to replace the Washington Ditch boardwalk, open an auto tour route to Lake Drummond, and build an environmental education pavilion to educate people about the role the swamp played in the Underground Railroad. Thousands of escaped slaves took refuge in the swamp, according to the National Park Service, which named the swamp to its Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

The fire won’t affect the annual deer hunt, which is scheduled for six weekends in October and November. The deer hunt has changed this year to accommodate hunters who want to hunt in November, during the peak of deer season, Lowie said. Hunters will be able to hunt for the first three weekends in October. The hunt then will take a two-week break, and resume Nov. 7-8 for that weekend and the two following.

The deadline has passed for permits to hunt for the entire season; however, applications still are being taken for permits for the last three weeks after the break. They are due Oct. 15. To get an application, visit www.fws.gov. A black bear hunt also is coming up later in the year.