July 31, 2008

Fewer Needed to Fight Wildfire in Refuge


By Ryan Hutchins

The Virginian-Pilot

Officials have begun scaling back efforts to extinguish a wildfire that continues to smolder 50 miles west of the Outer Banks.

"We're identifying people and equipment we don't need anymore," incident spokesman Roger Miller said by phone Wednesday.

There are now 217 people assigned to control the blaze, down from about 250 last week.

Miller said there hadn't been surface burning for several days and that some workers were switching gears to clean up operations.

"In areas where the fire is contained, we're beginning to do some repair work, such as fixing roads," Miller said.

The fire, which has charred 40,704 acres in and around the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, has continued its descent beneath the surface - fueled by patches of peat.

Containment has increased to 80 percent, and flooding operations continue to soak hot areas identified by infrared images. Crews are pumping water from the Alligator River.

"To date we estimate that we have pumped 2 billion gallons of water," Miller said.

The fire got four days of significant rain last week, but no more has fallen for several days. That has allowed some soil to dry and hot spots to persist.

"It cut off on Saturday," Miller said. "We had a couple of thunderstorm cells approach the fire yesterday, but they disappeared."

The chance of rain may be reduced by a high pressure system forecast to move into the area within the next few days, Miller said.

To extinguish the fire, the water table needs to rise enough to reach subsurface flames. Officials have said patches of peat can be found a dozen feet below the surface in some areas.

The fire has been burning since July 1, when it was started by a lightning strike. Officials estimate that 60 percent of the fire has burned on U.S. Fish and Wildlife land and the remainder on state and private land.

The total cost as of Tuesday afternoon was more than $17.5 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay up to 75 percent of the state's bills, but the exact amount won't be known until costs are final.

Ryan Hutchins, (252) 441-1627,

[email protected]

40,704 acres burned

The fire has charred 40,704 acres in and around the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Containment has increased to 80 percent.

Originally published by BY RYAN HUTCHINS.

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