August 7, 2008
Number of Firefighters on Hand is Reduced
By RYAN HUTCHINS
By Ryan Hutchins
The fire that raged through more than 40,000 acres of North Carolina forest and farm land - and sent smoke into Hampton Roads - appears to be nearly extinguished.
A multi agency fire-fighting force that had totaled nearly 600 had been reduced to 93 by Wednesday. The fire has burned for more than two months in and around the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
"After the weekend, there should be less than 20 people assigned to the fire," incident spokesman Roger Miller said Wednesday.
A smaller command team will transition in this weekend as efforts turn to repairing damage made to roads and land by the nearly $18.5 million operation.
The fire hasn't made an appearance at the surface for several weeks but has continued to eat away at underground patches of peat. It's now 90 percent contained.
Infrared images taken from a helicopter Tuesday showed that hot spots have "diminished in size significantly, " Miller said. "Which tells us the rains we got have helped."
Pumping from nearby lakes and streams has stopped after some 2.1 billion gallons of water were irrigated to the fire - enough to fill nearly 3,200 Olympic-size pools . Two pumps continue to hold the water levels in some canals.
"All we're doing now is maintaining water that's already been pumped into the area," Miller said.
After two weeks to a month, the water will be released by opening plugged drainage canals, according to a media statement.
Repair work includes grading the dirt roads made rutted and uneven by the pounding of heavy machines.
The edges of some canals and roads are being smoothed and seeded. Some areas where natural vegetation will be allowed to return will be covered with a layer of straw.
As surface burning eased early in July, the destruction the fire caused was evident. In Washington, Hyde and Tyrrell counties, trees lay uprooted, felled through the month of June as the soil that held them was claimed by the fire.
Wildfires are a natural part of an ecosystem's cycle, but blazes like this one can lead to "catastrophic" damage, Sue Wilder , regional ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in early July as plans were being developed to rehab the area.
That's why the service is developing a separate plan that would focus on fixing some of the damage, according to Bonnie Strawser , a spokeswoman for the wildlife refuge. "It could involve tree planting," she said.
Outside of that, vegetation will be restored naturally. That's already started, Strawser said.
Ryan Hutchins, (252) 441-1627,
The fire hasn't made an appearance at the surface for several weeks but has continued to eat away at underground patches of peat. It's now 90 percent contained. smoke forecast
No wildfire smoke is expected today in Hampton Roads or northeastern North Carolina.
Originally published by BY RYAN HUTCHINS.
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