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Wildfire at Great Dismal Swamp extinguished; it started Aug. 4

November 22, 2011 |  5:23 pm

The Great Dismal Swamp fire has been extinguished.

The Great Dismal Swamp fire is no more.

After nearly four months of battling the fire within the swamp's 110,000 acres of unforgiving forested marshland in southeastern Virginia, firefighters have extinguished the blaze.

Officials surveyed the burned areas within the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge last week and saw no smoke. An aerial inspection Monday for signs of fire also came up empty, according to a news release from the wildlife refuge.

Fire crews had been forced to battle not only the extremely difficult terrain within the wildlife refuge, but also the particular nature of a swamp fire.

The flames had ignited patches of abundant marsh peat -- soil made of partially decayed organic material such as trees and grasses. Such soil smolders, leaving no visible flames to fight, even as the fire burns underground.

The swamp fire, sparked Aug. 4 by lightning, grew to 6,500 acres over time.

“We are happy this one is out,” said Tim Craig, the refuge’s fire management officer, in a statement. “This has been a very difficult fire that moved deep into the peat soils of the swamp during a period of below-normal rainfall. However, we are now confident the ground fire is no longer active.”

Because the fire burned downward, crews pumped water from nearby Lake Drummond to flood the smoldering areas. They used helicopters to drop large pumps into the dense, inaccessible areas of the swamp that ground crews were unable to reach with bulldozers and tractors. And they lugged pipes and hoses to the pumps, which were then connected to the water source to inundate the fiery peat.

Before European settlers descended on the area in the 1600s, Native American tribes lived on the edge of the swamp and used it for hunting. But by the 1650s, tensions had risen between the groups and some Native Americans moved into the swamp, where it served as a refuge.

Two centuries later, runaway slaves developed colonies in the swamp and lived off the land, deputy refuge manager Cindy Lane told The Times in August.

Widespread logging, canals and the growth of nearby towns shrank the swamp considerably beginning in the 19th century. At its peak, the swamp was almost double its current size.

-- Stephen Ceasar

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Photo: A wildfire in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge charred more than 6,000 acres since it ignited Aug. 4. Credit: Amanda Lucier/Virginia-Pilot

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