Northeast Region Fire Program
Northeast Region
fire whirl at Great Dismal Swamp NWR
Lateral West Fire on Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, 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.

Watch this video on YouTube.

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.

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..

See photos of the Lateral West Fire on Flickr.

Stories from the Lateral West Fire

Fledgling Firefighters Fly (AmeriCorps NCCC) (PDF)

Fires, Hurricanes, and Earthquakes? (PDF)

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Last updated: April 25, 2014