NC, VA Battle Swamp Fire

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SUFFOLK, Va. - It's not as widespread, but firefighters on the East Coast are battling another kind of wildfire.

And like the fires out West, it's producing some real air quality problems - even for people who stay inside.

The Great Dismal Swamp Fire

As flames lap up the landscape along the California canyons, firefighters in the East face a similar scenario in the area known as the Great Dismal Swamp - a wildlife refuge in Virginia and North Carolina.

"A lot of challenges that we've been facing. We're trying different options. We're making some progress, but it's slow-moving at this point," said firefighter Kasie Crowe.

Crowe is one of hundreds of firefighters from all over the country waging war on this East Coast fire that's now burned more than 4,600 acres.

But unlike a traditional surface fire, where the flames are highly visible, this one is burning underground, feasting on a layer of soil known as peat.

Fire officials warn - one wrong step or the wrong footwear - and the fire could burn the flesh off your feet.

"It does create a more complex issue with it being a ground fire because the soil's being burned out around the roots of trees, and those trees are now falling. That creates safety issues," Crowe said.

The fire is burning three to five feet underground in parts of the Swamp. That's why the goal is to flood parts of the area. Authorities have set up a pumping operation, pumping water from nearby Lake Drummond.

At the edge of the lake - 14,000 gallons per minute flow into the swamp.

Still, some predict it may not be until the fall, before this fire is officially put out. Firefighters say a big rainmaker may be the key.

How it All Started

Ironically, a storm in 2003 is partly responsible for this swamp fire beginning in the first place.

So how did it all begin?

The cause can be traced to debris from Hurricane Isabel. Loggers were out here, early last month, salvaging timber from that storm, when a piece of their equipment overheated. It then started the fire and with it, all that smoke that's spread throughout the region for weeks.

Fire Public Information Officer Annaleasa Winter has advice for homeowners.

"You want to make sure you have nice clean vents on your air conditioning unit, and if you can adjust the unit so it circulates the air inside of the home, that's very helpful," Public Information Officer Annaleasa Winter said.

She added, "Of course, keep your windows closed, and stay inside during the hot parts of the afternoon, when the smoke might be a little bit more irritating to your lungs and airways."

They serve as effective ways to stay healthy, during this seemingly endless season of fire and smoke.

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Mark Martin

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