Firefighters focus on flooding swamp with water from Lake Drummond


Posted on August 12, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 8:06 AM

SUFFOLK -- Firefighters say the raging wildfire in the Great Dismal Swamp will keep burning until the swamp is flooded with water from Lake Drummond and the area receives appreciable rainfall.

On Friday, fire activity increased within the fire's perimeter as fallen trees and brush burned. Firefighters continue to focus their effort on flooding the swamp with water from Lake Drummond.

The fire continues to cloud the air in Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina. Lighter winds led to thicker smoke, prompting air quality alerts for several counties and leading to road closures due to poor visibility.

Officials said the severely limited visibility Thursday and Friday morning was a "superfog" event.

13News Chief Meteorologist Jeff Lawson said such events happen when smoke combines with water vapor.

"Superfog is caused by the smoke creating more condensation nuclei for the fog to form onto. The fog droplets are also larger because of that, which further impairs visibility," said Lawson.

U.S. Rt, 58, the major highway between Suffolk and Chesapeake, was closed for over an hour Thursday morning due to poor visibility and accidents.

Some 433 firefighters continued their assault on the wildfire, which has now been burning for two weeks.

Crews focused their efforts this week on the large-scale pumping effort to flood the ditch system in the swamp. Helicopters have been delivering more pumps to remote areas near Lake Drummond and firefighters are busy installing and operating these pumps.

Officials describe the Dismal Swamp wildfire as a "slow-moving, smoldering ground fire in peat fuels." As the fire burns underground through the deep, organic soil, it also burns through live tree roots. The toppling trees not only pose a threat to firefighters, they also add more fuel to the fire.

“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 fire management officer Timothy Craig.

As of Friday, the fire covered 6071 acres and is now 15 percent contained.

The wildfire south of Lake Drummond is the largest fire in the history of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Several areas of the refuge are closed to the public, including the Dismal Swamp State Park in North Carolina, Lake Drummond, and the roads along Railroad Ditch, West Ditch, Interior Ditch, and Corapeake Ditch. Feeder Ditch and the Lake Drummond Reservation are also closed.

Also closed is the Dismal Swamp Canal, the nation's oldest continually-operating canal and an alternative route on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The closure will allow firefighters to have continuous, unimpeded access into the fire zone from Route 17.

The restriction will be lifted when the fire is contained and smoke levels diminish.  Boaters can use the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, which is the primary ICW route.

Additional information on the canal closure can be obtained by calling 757-201-7500, option 3.