Smell smoke? It’s fire.

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A wildfire in the Great Dismal Swamp in 2008 burned for months, affecting area residents with heavy smoke that lingered throughout the region. The swamp is holding controlled burns in the next few months to prevent such devastating fires from happening again.

If you smell smoke during the next several months, don’t panic — it could just be from a controlled burn at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Staff at the refuge will be conducting prescribed burns as part of the refuge resource and fuels management program. The burns help maintain forest health and reduce the amount of fuel available for an unwanted fire.

“While smoke from these prescribed burns may be noticeable for several days, depending on the size of the burn and the wind direction, the long-term goal is to reduce the chances of communities having to deal with weeks or months of smoke,” Refuge Manager Chris Lowie said in a press release.

Email newsletter signup

He referred to the refuge’s wildfire of 2008, which was sparked by logging equipment on June 9 and burned until late September. At 121 days, it was the longest-burning wildfire in Virginia’s history. It was one of the most expensive, as well, with costs that exceeded $11 million.

The smoke from that fire affected residents throughout Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina, depending on wind speed and direction.

The upcoming burns will be conducted by trained personnel following approved plans. Swamp personnel are assisted by other federal, state and local agencies, including the Virginia Department of Forestry and the North Carolina Forest Service.

The burns are dependent upon short and long-term weather conditions, the potential wildfire threat and other ongoing wildfires in the region.

The pine forests in the swamp require the periodic use of fire, Lowie said in the press release. The burns aim to protect the historic landscape and natural resources and prevent nearby private property from being affected if an unwanted fire does break out.

For more information, call the swamp headquarters at 986-3705.