Northeast Fire Program
Northeast Region
 

Wildfire


Although wildfires are relatively rare in the Northeast compared to other areas of the country, they do occur on our National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries. Most of our fire employees are trained and qualified to respond to wildfires. They also may help with wildfires in other regions.

Incident Information System.

Active wildfires. Adobe Acrobat Reader required to read this document

National Weather Service Fire Weather.

Lateral West Fire, 2011

On August 4, 2011, a pilot flying back from a wildfire in North Carolina spotted smoke in Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. That smoke was from the Lateral West Fire, which had probably started from a lightning strike the previous week. In record dry conditions, the fire, ueled by dead and down material and grass and brush that had grown in the wake of the 2008 South One Fire (see below), quickly spread through the old fire scar and beyond. It burned over 6,300 acres, including a couple hundred acres in the adjacent Dismal Swamp State Park..

On August 27, Hurricane Irene dumped over a foot of rain on the fire for an estimated 1.7 billion gallons of water over the fire's footprint. That, however, was not enough to completely extinguish the fire which like the South One Fire, burned deep into peat soils.

See more photos on Flickr

See video on YouTube

As with the 2008 fire, smoke blew into the Hampton Roads area. At times, the smoke combined with fog to form "superfog" resulting in poor visibility on local roads. Concern over public safety and health from the smoke was a major factor in committing money, firefighters, and equipment to put the fire out.

Once again, wildfire was a setback for restoration of Atlantic white cedar (see below) because all 234,000 seedlings planted on 800 acres after the South One Fire were burned in the Lateral West Fire. As a result of this and the loss of more peat soils, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge will reexamine strategies to restore this globally rare species in the context of climate change and challenges of managing an altered ecosystem. Great Dismal Swamp has been drained by ditches since the 1700's..

Stories from the Lateral West Fire

Fledgling Firefighters Fly (AmeriCorps NCCC)

Fires, Hurricanes, and Earthquakes?

Standing dead trees burn in the background producing white smoke.  The understory is green.
The Lateral West Fire burned through Atlantic White Cedar restroation areas. Credit: Mike Petruncio/North Carolina Forest Service
A shot from the air shows smoke from the main fire and then a smaller, separate column in the trees
Peat soils generated smoke that blew into the Hampton Roads area. Here smoke from both the main fire (right) and the Bull North Spot fire is visible. Credit: Greg Sanders/USFWS
Against a dark orange sky due to fire, a yellow string of fire reaches to the sky with a hook at the end, looking like a firey tornado
Fire whirl at Lateral West Fire, 2011 Credit: Greg Sanders/USFWS

A map of the Lateral West Fire shows that is is along the southwest side of Lake Drummond.  An overlay of the 2008 South One fire shows how the Lateral West Fire burned in the South One footprint

 

Multicolored tractors siphon water out of a swamp ditch to flood the fire
Tractors look like thirsty animals at a watering hole as they draw water from a ditch to flood peat soils.. Credit: Greg Sanders/USFWS
A shot from the air shows a mostly flooded fire but puffs of white smoke are present in green tree areas
Hurricane Irene dropped 10-15 inches of rain on the fire, but it still continued to burn. Credit: Mike Petruncio/North Carolina Forest Service
 
A tracked vehicle for low ground pressure in the swamp is loaded to the top with hose
A tracked vehicle to reduce soil impacts in the swamp is loaded with hose. Miles of hose and pipes were used to flood the swamp. Credit: Brad Lidell/USFWS

Dry Marsh Fire, Easter Day 2010

Early on Sunday morning, April 4, 2010, a wildfire was discovered on Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, just off the refuge's wildlife drive and next to the New York State Thruway (I-90) in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. With record high temperatures the previous two days, dry cattails, and low humidity, the fire quickly grew to 694 acres. Flames 30 feet tall and a mile wide attracted 1,000 visitors to the refuge.

While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters dispatched to the scene, firefighters from the local Magee-Tyre Volunteer Fire Department monitored the fire from afar because it was inaccessible and dangerous to try to put out directly. State Police, New York Thruway Authority, State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers and other State employees also responded and managed traffic.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel were concerned the fire would burn into peat and smoke out the Thruway and U.S. Highway 20, but by 4:00 p.m., the fire was contained by open water and a series of canals and ditches. The Dry Marsh Fire burned within 30 feet of a tree in which bald eagles were nesting. Although ash fell on their heads, the eagles remained incubating.

According to Refuge Manager Tom Jasikoff, wildlife impacts from the fire were minimal because it was still early in the migration/nesting season.  “The overall habitat impacts have been mostly beneficial”, he said. Read more

Wildfire burns in cattails in the background with open water with some cattails in the foreground
Smoke from the Dry Marsh Fire was visible up to 100 miles away Credit: Bill Stewart/USFW
 
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge sign in front, wildfire burning in dry cattails in background
Dry Marsh Fire, April 4, 2010 Credit: Bill Stewart/USFWS
 
map of fire
 
 


South One Wildfire, 2008

The South One Fire at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia, burned 4, 884-acres. It started in June, 2008 when equipment sparked a fire at a logging site on the refuge. Fueled by logging slash and record drought, the fire quickly spread and burned deep into peat soils. Firefighters tried several ways to extinguish the fire and eventually used high volume pumps to flood areas and saturate the soil. The fire smoldered for four months until a series of coastal storms in the fall finally put it out completely.

Lasting 121 days and costing over 12 million dollars, the South One fire was the longest burning and most expensive fire in Virginia’s history. Smoke from the fire blew into the popular Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia, which is home to about 2 million people.

The fire was a setback for restoration of Atlantic white cedar because many newly restored areas with young cedars were burned. Although this species often grows back after fire, loss of organic soils to a depth of 1-3 feet in places may have destroyed cedar seeds. However, not all was lost because some young cedar stands did not burn and the Refuge replanted burned areas with seedlings grown from seeds previously collected from the swamp.

Read about the planting of Atlantic white cedar trees in the wake of the South One Fire.

Stories from the South One Fire

Civil Air Patrol Lends Assistance

Hazard Trees – Our Greatest Danger

Young Men and Women Help Wildfire

Flatwoods Crews Support Virginia Fire

Specialized Equipment on the Fire Line

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Sunset over a burned Atlantic white cedar restoration area
Sunset over a burned Atlantic white cedar restoration area at South One Fire
Credit: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS
The wildfire burned deep through organic soils to expose tree roots. Falling trees were a hazard to firefighters
The South One wildfire burned deep through organic soils to expose tree roots. Falling trees were a hazard to firefighters
Credit: Kasie Crowe/USFWS
Progression of the fire through July 11
Smoke often blew towards the Hampton Roads area
Firefighters gather near a portable water tank known as a "pumpkin".
Firefighters gather near a portable water tank known as a "pumpkin" at South One Fire
Credit: Rob Bozeman/USFWS
Fire runs through Atlantic white cedar clearcut restoration area.
South One Fire runs through Atlantic white cedar clearcut restoration area
Credit: Carl Melear/USFWS
High volume pumps drew water from ditches to flood fires burning deep in peat
High volume pumps drew water from ditches to flood fires burning deep in peat at South One Fire
Credit: Glenn Davis/USFWS
Firefighters built an elaborate network of pumps, hose, and sprinklers
Firefighters built an elaborate network of pumps, hose, and sprinklers at South One Fire
Credit: Glenn Davis/USFWS
Smoke from the fire was a menace to firefighters and the public
Smoke from the South One Fire was a menace to firefighters and the public
Credit: Bobby Clontz/USFWS
Fire burns up to one of many ditches in Great Dismal Swamp
South One Fire burns up to one of many ditches in Great Dismal Swamp
Credit: Mark Tracy/USFWS
Last updated: February 27, 2013