Still smoldering

Published 11:39 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Swamp fire contained, but burning

More than two months after it started, a fire in the Great Dismal Swamp is still not out.

Although the fire is 100 percent contained, there are spots in the controlled area that are still active, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

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Firefighters are working to relocate water pumps to target the small ground fires.

The spots are on small, elevated ridges that are surrounded by flooded areas, according to the release.

“I was surprised to see how much heat the ground could still be holding, considering all the surrounding water,” refuge fire manager Tim Craig said.

The Lateral West Fire has burned nearly 6,400 acres of the Great Dismal Swamp refuge and North Carolina’s connected Dismal Swamp State Park since it ignited Aug. 4 from a lightning strike.

The blaze is the most expansive the refuge has ever experienced and has burned about 1,500 more acres than the South One Fire of 2008.

Firefighters have come from all over the country to battle the wildfire. Because a large portion of the fire burned below the ground level, the firefighters had to worry about trees falling after their root systems had been damaged as they battled the fire.

Crews battled the wildfire for weeks before Hurricane Irene came through the area, dumping about a foot of rain on the conflagration.

But it wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire that burned deep in the peat.

Even after the deluge, firefighters had to fight through flooded roads and downed trees to reach 30 hot spots that were still burning.

On Sept. 20, Fish and Wildlife officials reported, there were only two underground hot spots still smoldering.

In addition to battling the last of the hot spots, work is under way in other areas.

Officials said repairs are being completed to ditch banks, pump station staging areas and access roads. Also, workers are removing sheet piling used to hold water from inactive zones.

For safety concerns, Lake Drummond and the Railroad Ditch and Corapeake Ditch entrances are still closed. Additionally, all tours have been canceled until further notice.