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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Great Dismal Swamp Fire "Again" We need a rain with a name!

I sure hope you enjoyed my birthday yesterday. Many firefighters could not enjoy the day as they were fighting fire, protecting people, homes and natural resources.
This morning I am going to focus on wildfire activity in Va, might post some more historical stuff later if I have time.
As we talked about a few blogs ago its getting dry, really dry in several places and the Southwest, Northern Valley and the Southeast are at the centers of the drought. The Great Dismal swamp is burning again. It was 2008 when a 5000 acre fire burned for several weeks and cost over $11,000,000.00 to suppress. And they are expecting this one to go bigger.

What we need is a RAIN WITH A NAME !!

I will be providing some info on the fire including a few pictures taken from the WAVY TV site, but first a bit of a Dismal Swamp History lesson. This is a wonderful place, one where fire plays a big role in its development, growth and health. BUT thats fire in the right place at the right time not an unplanned wildfire. So please enjoy this info and keep on reading to get info about the fire.

The Great Dismal Swamp History Lesson

The Great Dismal Swamp is a marshy area between Norfolk, Virginia and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It is a southern swamp like many along the Atlantic Ocean’s coast which include the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp and Okefenokee Swamp.  Essential to the swamp ecosystem are its water resources, native vegetation and varied wildlife. The Great Dismal Swamp's ecological significance and its wealth of history and lore make it extremely unique. It is one of the last large and wild areas remaining in the Eastern United States.

After centuries of logging and other activities which were devastating the swamp's ecosystems, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was officially established by the US Congress through The Dismal Swamp Act of 1974. The refuge consists of over 111,000 acres of forested wetlands. Lake Drummond, a 3,100 acre natural lake, is located in the heart of the swamp. Outside the boundaries of the National Refuge, the state of North Carolina has preserved and protected additional portions of the swamp, as the Great Dismal Swamp State Nature Area. The whole swamp has a peat bog lying just under the surface.

There is archaeological evidence which indicates human occupation began nearly 13,000 years ago. Some scientists believe the Great Dismal Swamp was created when the Continental Shelf made its last big shift. The origin of Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in Virginia, is disputed.
Other scientists believe the lake could have been created by the impact of a meteoroid because it is oval shaped. They think it was made by a big meteoroid like the ones that are thought to have made the Carolina Bays. Other people believe it was made by a large underground peat burn about 3,500 to 6,000 years ago. Indian legend talks about "the fire bird" creating Lake Drummond.

By 1650, few American Indians remained in the area and European settlers showed little interest in the swamp. In 1665, William Drummond, a future governor of North Carolina, was the first European to explore the lake which now bears his name. A surveying party entered the swamp to draw a dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728.

 George Washington visited the swamp and then formed the Dismal Swamp Land Company in 1763, which proceeded to drain and harvest timber from part of the area. A five-mile ditch on the west side of the current refuge there still bears his name. In 1805, the Dismal Swamp Canal began serving as a commercial waterway for timber from the swamp.

Painting: Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia by David Edward Cronin 1888

Before and during the Civil War, the Great Dismal Swamp was a hideout for runaway slaves. Some people believe there were at least a thousand slaves living in the swamp at one time. This was the subject of Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, Harriet Beecher Stowe's follow-on to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
While all efforts to drain the swamp ultimately failed, logging of the swamp proved to be a successful commercial activity. Regular logging operations continued as late as 1976. The entire swamp has been logged at least once, and many areas have been burned by periodic wildfires. The Great Dismal Swamp has been drastically altered by humanity over the past two centuries. Agricultural, commercial, and residential development destroyed much of the swamp, so that the remaining portion within and around the refuge represents less than half of the original size of the swamp. A drier swamp and the suppression of wildfires, which once cleared the land for seed germination, created ecological conditions that were less favorable to the survival of cypress stands. As a result, plant and animal variety decreased.

The primary purpose of the refuge's resource management programs is to restore and maintain the natural biological diversity that existed prior to the human-caused alterations. Water is being conserved and managed by placing water control structures in the ditches. Plant community diversity is being restored and maintained through forest management activities which simulate the ecological effects of wildfires. Wildlife is managed by insuring the presence of required habitats, with hunting used to balance some wildlife populations with available food supplies. Many species including black bear, bobcat, otter, and weasel, along with over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians call the swamp home. More than 200 bird species can also be seen at the swamp throughout the year. 

In the mid 20th century, conservation groups from all over America began demanding that something be done to preserve what was left of the Great Dismal Swamp. In 1973, the Union Camp Corporation, a paper company which had had large land property in the area since the beginning of the 20th century, donated just over 49,000 acres of its land to The Nature Conservancy which transferred the property the following year to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

OK now that our history lesson is over lets talk about the current fire.

The Lateral West Fire in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was started by a several day old lightning strike in the refuge interior. The fire was reported to the refuge on the evening of August 4, 2011. Drought conditions throughout the area have dried the deep organic soils, brush and downed dead trees. These fuels will continue to burn until there is at least six inches of rain over a period of a few days.
The Great Dismal Swamp is southeast of Suffolk, Virginia. It is burning in the fire scar of the 2008 South One Wildfire. Dense smoke will likely be a public health and safety concern for the foreseeable future. Several closures are in place.
Basic Information
Cause - Lightning
Date of Origin - Thursday August 04th, 2011 approx. 07:00 PM
Size- 2,500 acres    
Fuels Involved - Regrowth of brush and grass and downed dead trees from 2008 South One Fire. Pine pocosin, deep organic soils.
Percent Contained - 10%
Fire Behavior - Fire showed steady rates of spread, with 4-5 foot flame lengths on backing fire, with flare-ups of 10-12 feet. Head fire was twice those values, with short range spotting. Large plume of smoke maintained throughout by intense burning of organic soils and dead and down fuels.

Significant Events - Planned prep work on Riddick Ditch abandoned because of fire spread to the east. Prep work on Interior Ditch proceeded as planned. Members of the Southern Area Incident Management Team are arriving.

Several other wildfire occured yesterday or in the last few days. James City County had a significant fire late yesterday.

There is not alot we can do about the lightning caused wildfires BUT we can do our part and not let a wildfire start because of our carelessness. There are also things you can do to help protect your home from wildfire PLEASE visit for more info.

Growth Potential - High

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