Friday, August 12, 2011

Great Dismal Swamp fire in N.C.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Great Dismal Swamp Fire
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Great Dismal Swamp Fire

The swamp is on fire!

In case you aren't up on this news, allow me to help you fill in the gaps:

First of all, the Great Dismal Swamp is a wildlife refuge that covers over 100,000 acres — one of the largest in the U.S. — in southeast Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. People have reportedly resided there for more than 13,000 years, though it didn't get its name until the mid-1600s (and no one seems to know why it has such an unfortunate name).

The fire, which appears to have been started by a lightning strike, began on Aug. 4. As of this writing, the fire has engulfed nearly 6,000 acres, and its smoke has reached the Washington, D.C., area. Firefighters from across the country are battling the blaze.

There was another fire in the swamp three years ago that consumed nearly 5,000 acres.

Here's a little more about the swamp's history, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The Great Dismal Swamp has been drastically altered by humans 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. Before the refuge was established, over 140 miles of roads were constructed to provide access to the timber. These roads severely disrupted the swamp's natural hydrology, as the ditches which were dug to provide soil for the road beds drained water from the swamp. The roads also blocked the flow of water across the swamp's surface, flooding some areas of the swamp with stagnant water. The logging operations removed natural stands of cypress and Atlantic white-cedar that were replaced by other forest types, particularly red maple. A drier swamp and the suppression of wildfires, which once cleared the land for seed germination, created environmental conditions that were less favorable to the survival of cypress and cedar stands. As a result, plant and animal diversity decreased.

The swamp is also an integral part of the cultural history of the region and remains a place of refuge for wildlife and people. The dense forests of the Great Dismal Swamp provided refuge to runaway slaves, resulting in the refuge becoming the first National Wildlife Refuge to be officially designated as a link in the “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom” in 2003.

Establishment of the refuge began in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation donated 49,100 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy. This land was then conveyed to the Department of the Interior, and the refuge was officially established through The Dismal Swamp Act of 1974.

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