One month later, swamp fire burns on

Published 3:21 pm Monday, September 5, 2011

A mother bear and her cub wander through the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge as firefighters work on battling a blaze in the swamp. Hurricane Irene put out most of the fire, but workers are still trying to reach about 30 hot spots to put them out.

A month after the fire in the Great Dismal Swamp began, it’s still burning.

Even Hurricane Irene couldn’t extinguish the blaze with 1.7 billion gallons of water. The 6,000-acre fire was started by a lightning strike and reported Aug. 4. It quickly became the largest fire in the swamp’s recorded history.

In the process, the conflagration has introduced Hampton Roads residents to the meaning of the term “super-fog,” a phenomena that occurs when water droplets in the air cling to ash from the fire, creating a thick wall of seemingly impenetrable fog that has slowed traffic and caused accidents when it struck the area.

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Fire officials said repeatedly that nothing but a storm that dumped several inches of rain across the entire fire area would put the blaze out. That storm came last weekend in the form of Hurricane Irene, which is thought to have doused the fire with about a foot of rain, dumping an estimated 1.7 billion gallons of water over the swamp.

But to the amazement of many, even that didn’t put out the fire. It also made matters more difficult for firefighters, who now have to deal with washed-out roads, downed trees and more to reach about 30 hot spots that managed to escape Irene’s effects.

Those spots still have caused some smoke issues for Suffolk and the surrounding area, though not as bad as before the fire.

Only about 150 people are now working on the fire, compared to more than 400 at its peak.

Even though this is the largest fire in the swamp’s recorded history, it is far from the longest-burning. That dubious distinction belongs to the 2008 fire in the same area of the swamp, which burned for more than four months after being started by sparks from logging equipment.

Officials announced last week that the Dismal Swamp State Park would remain closed through Thursday. The office, boardwalk and Canal Trail were all scheduled to reopen on Friday. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also has cancelled it deer hunt, “due to active fire, wet roads, hazard trees, and roads needed for firefighter access and escape routes,” officials announced on Friday.

Those hunters with current permits will receive refunds and can call 986-3705 for more information.