Swamp wildfire is out

Published 11:25 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

The wildfire that destroyed 4,884 acres of woodland in the Great Dismal Swamp and Wildlife Refuge is out.

The Sept. 25-26 coastal storm that dumped five inches of rain on areas where the fire continued to smolder in recent weeks finally extinguished it, said Chris Lowie, refuge manager. Twice in the days following the storm, on both Oct. 3 and Oct. 7, aerial reconnaissance showed no signs of smoke or fire activity.

The fire, which started from a spark from some logging equipment in use by a private contractor, burned for 121 days. It was the longest-burning fire in Virginia’s history and, with fire costs expected to exceed $11 million, one of the most expensive as well, Lowie said.

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“We’re very glad to declare the South One Fire is out,” said Lowie. “Although some areas of the refuge have been reopened, portions are still closed due to lingering hazards in the burn area, such as occasional falling trees or poor footing.”

The Washington Ditch and Portsmouth Ditch roads leading into the refuge from Suffolk have reopened to the public. Also, the Jericho Ditch, the Railroad Ditch and part of the West Ditch are open, except during Friday and Saturday refuge hunt days. Boating access to Lake Drummond has been reopened via the Feeder Ditch.

The fire damaged several refuge resources, including several of the Atlantic White Cedar restoration sites, and caused the loss of organic soils up to three feet deep in places, Lowie said.