Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fires burning underground in peat

The other day I was in the shift briefing section of the hotlist of the wildlandfire today where news articles about wildfire news in the US are posted. I saw an article about a fire burning in the  Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. According to the inciweb page the fire, aka the Silo Fire, has burned about 200 acres. It started out as a prescribed burn on Aug. 23 with all going as planed until on or about Oct. 23 when it escaped prescription after four days of Red Flag conditions.

The fire, however, is not burning above ground. Rather most of the fire is burning underground in peat. What peaked my interest when I read this article in the Grand Forks Herald is the discussion on the difficulty in bringing such underground fires under control. I was especially interested in the discussion of the techniques used by wildland fire crews to battle the fire. These techniques are different than those employed in wildfires burning above ground, and you will want to read the article to learn more. Simply, instead of using air tankers and heavy ground equipment, the fire fighters use light ground vehicles with 300 gallon water tanks. The goal is to "surround and drown" the fires.

I then remembered the Honey Prairie Fire that is still burning in the Okfenokee Swamp in Georgia. This fire recently passed its six month birthday, having started from lightening on April 30, 2011. At the time I write this, it has burned 309,299 acres and is at 76% containment. Anyway, I remembered that some of the fire activity in the Honey Prairie Fire is burning underground in peat. So I went to the  to review the  inciweb page (obtained Nov. 9, 2011). This report says in part:

Incident Commander Steve Abbott says, 'We need a storm to dump at least six to eight inches of rainfall over the entire swamp to bring the water level up and extinguish the fire. The US Drought Monitor indicates that most of Georgia including the Okefenokee Swamp is in an extreme drought. The NOAA Drought Outlook predicts that drought will persist or intensify in the area through January 31, 2012. It does not look like the fire will be out soon.'

I now have a new appreciation of the difficulty in fighting fires burning underground in peat.

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