Have gratitude for firefighters

Published 7:34 pm Monday, August 22, 2011

In the past few weeks, Suffolk and the rest of Hampton Roads have been suffering from the aptly-named “super-fog.”

It might as well be called “souper-fog.” Looks like fog, but has the thickness of soup. In reality, it is neither, but rather consists mostly of smoke and ash from the fire burning in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The smoke has drifted as far north as Baltimore, causing fire departments there to issue a press release stressing that there were no active fires in the area at the time.

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If the folks who comment on local news stories are to be believed, there’s nobody fighting this fire. The 400 people who do this for a living have come from throughout the country to stand around in the swamp, laughing and picking their teeth rather than breaking out the fire extinguishers to put out the tiny flames.

That’s easy to say if you haven’t been in the swamp during a wildfire. I have — twice — and I can tell you that these firefighters are working hard, sometimes up to 16 hours a day, to battle the sneaky flames. They work 14 days before they get a day off, and there are firefighters there 24 hours a day monitoring the situation.

There are aircraft, firefighters on the ground and an expansive pumping system spraying water from Lake Drummond to try to put the fire out.

I think the misconception among people who believe the fire should be out already comes from the fact that most people are familiar only with house fires. Conflagrations in even the largest structures are usually put out within hours, at the most, if only because they run out of fuel at that point.

But peat fires like the one burning in the swamp are essentially like a giant game of whack-a-mole. You can put it out in one place, but little do you know it’s traveling underground, ready to pop up again miles away when you least expect it. It’s bringing down trees, which add fuel to the fire and block escape routes, and it’s causing the gravel roads within the swamp to deteriorate.

So to everyone in Hampton Roads who has been complaining about the smoke, rest assured that there is a team of hundreds of firefighters out there risking their safety to try to put it out to keep you safe. They know you’re suffering from breathing the smoke, but the air isn’t exactly fresh and clean in their work area, either. Try to have a little bit of gratitude for their service.