Fire holds steady

Published 9:38 pm Saturday, August 13, 2011

Record Fire: Smoke from the Lateral West fire in the Great Dismal Swamp drifted into Suffolk Friday and Saturday and had been reported as far away as Baltimore, Md.

After more than a week of rapid growth, the Lateral West fire in the Great Dismal Swamp is holding steady about roughly 5,900 acres, according to a press release issued by fire officials Saturday morning.

Officials estimated the fire was about 10 percent contained by Saturday morning.

Trees are falling rapidly, endangering the safety of not only the firefighters battling the blaze, but also anyone entering the burned areas in the future.

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“With the consumption of the organic material, the root structure is seriously weakened,” said Incident Safety Officer Brian Beisel.

The fire is burning through the deep peat layer, which can measure up to six feet below the surface. This layer provides the root foundation for trees in many areas of the swamp.

Winds moved smoke to areas west of the fire on Friday, forcing firefighters to move their aircraft from the Suffolk Executive Airport to other airports throughout the area.

Fire departments as far away as Baltimore have reported smoke from the fire affecting their area.

On Saturday, firefighters were planning to conduct controlled burns along the western edge of the fire to strengthen the fire containment lines there. Controlled burns are done only when conditions are favorable, and allow firefighters to eliminate fuel for the larger fire.

Once that is done, water will begin pumping from Lake Drummond to ditches throughout the swamp to flood the area. Firefighters hoped that rain expected during the weekend would help their efforts.

Several areas of the refuge are closed to the public, including Lake Drummond, Railroad Ditch, West Ditch, Interior Ditch and Corapeake Ditch roads, as well as everything south of Corapeake Ditch.

The North Carolina Dismal Swamp State Park also is closed after the fire spread into that state last week. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has closed the Feeder Ditch, the Lake Drummond Reservation and the Dismal Swamp Canal.