Swamp fires burn slowly at refuge

Published 10:24 pm Friday, August 5, 2011

Two fires broke out in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge this week because of lightning strikes.

The fires were reported Thursday night when a plane flying home from fighting a North Carolina wildfire spotted the smoke, refuge director Chris Lowie said.

There are two fires located southwest of Lake Drummond off Interior Ditch Road. One fire is burning an estimated 15 acres and the other so far is confined to a single tree, Lowie said.

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He added that lightning is the most likely cause of the fires, because National Weather Service lightning maps show that there were strikes in the area recently and because the flames are about a mile from public access.

A crew of about a dozen, as well as an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team, is battling the blazes. So far, Lowie said, the fires are mostly contained.

But that doesn’t mean the smoke isn’t bothering local residents. Lowie said he already has received calls from people to the west of the refuge “saying that they’ve got ashes falling in their yards.”

Lowie added that the wind was anticipated to shift today, meaning residents in the rest of Hampton Roads would be more likely to smell the smoke.

However, “It’s nothing like the South One fire was,” Lowie said, referring to the massive 2008 fire that burned for 121 days and devastated nearly 5,000 acres of the refuge.

Lowie does not anticipate the fires will spread very quickly. Additional resources, including people and equipment, are expected to arrive during the next few days to help.

Because of the fires, there are some closures and cancellations. The bus tour to Lake Drummond set for today has been canceled, and Railroad Ditch Road and trail are closed until further notice.

For more information on the refuge, call 986-3705.