Rain does little to help swamp fire

Published 4:44 pm Sunday, August 14, 2011

About one half-inch of rain fell Saturday afternoon on the wildfire scorching the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, but it did little to stop the fire, officials said.

The blaze now has reached about 6,156 acres, according to a press release issued Sunday morning.

“The rain cooled off smaller branches and sticks and the surface of the peat, but had little effect on the extremely hot embers deep in the peat and under large logs,” the statement said.

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Firefighters successfully got water from Lake Drummond pumping into ditches on the west side of the swamp, the statement said. The 362 people fighting the fire were hoping to move equipment into position on Sunday to start pumping operations on the east side of the fire.

However, officials cautioned that smoke-weary residents shouldn’t expect relief right away.

“Even if six inches of rain fell in a week, we would still have to run the pumps for a month to put out this fire,” said Timothy Craig, fire management officer for the refuge.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has once again issued a Code Orange air quality alert for the area, including the city of Suffolk, thanks to winds that were carrying smoke and ash away from the swamp.

The National Weather Service also was forecasting a slight risk for severe thunderstorms Sunday night, which could complicate firefighting efforts with intense and unpredictable wind gusts.