North Carolina

North Carolina

Complex Fire Incident at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge


An unusually early lightning strike in mid-May at North Carolina's Great Dismal Swamp State Park resulted in a 300-acre that quickly spread to the Great Dismal Swamp Refuge, and lasted nearly a month.

Metal sheet piling was installed in canals to create temporary dams around the fire, and by May 30, high volume pumps were bringing water into the fire location 24 hours a day. The fire was controlled and finally extinguished by using high-volume lift pumps and complete flooding of the area.

Controlling the fire was difficult due to the pond pine pocosin fuel type, extensive blowdown from Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, and the prevalence of deep organic soils. This fire was unusually complex to manage due to overlapping state and federal jurisdictions in Virginia and North Carolina. The added complication of potential endangered species habitat (red-cockaded woodpecker) and the proximity to the Hampton Roads metropolitan area made the situation even more challenging. Some mature pines in an area of large trees were toppled by ground fire burning in the soil, however the loss of a few trees may not significantly diminish the value of the area for woodpeckers. The fire area has been the target of three prescribed burns since 1988, so fuel conditions could have been far worse.

The refuge was hit by lightning many times during the last two weeks of May and hot, dry weather persisted throughout the month. The fire started as a result of one of the earliest lightening strikes on the refuge in the past 30 years. Most lightening strikes occur in July and August.

This was a first for the refuge in several respects, including hosting a Type 2 Incident Management Team, hosting an incident base camp, and use of a CL-215 air tanker scooping from Lake Drummond.

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