Vast Peat Fire May Burn for Months in North Carolina

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(Read more about endangered red wolves being introduced to North Carolina.)

Bonnie Strawser, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said officials don't think the animals there will be seriously affected.

"The wildlife will be fine," Strawser said. "Most of them smell the smoke and feel the heat and move out of the way."

But firefighters are encountering a few frightened animals as they battle the blaze.

Firefighter Mease said one worker had seen 14 black bears, and others have crossed paths with cottonmouth moccasins and rattlesnakes. Fortunately the only injuries so far have been bee stings and poison ivy, he said.

Hope for a Storm

Haines, of the Division of Forest Resources, added that the giant fire has sent a plume of smoke more than 45,000 feet (13,700 meters) into the atmosphere.

"There's such a great amount of heat produced by the fire. When it reaches a certain height, it actually creates its own weather conditions and can create lightning," he said.

(See a related photo of lightning lacing the plumes of ash during a May 3, 2008, eruption of a volcano in Chile.)

Firefighters are using bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment to build firebreaks and are drawing water from private agricultural canals and shallow lakes, he said.

But only a heavy rainfall such as what would accompany a tropical storm or hurricane will provide enough water to completely extinguish the blaze.

"It's not that we want the damage from a strong tropical storm," Haines said. "But we could use the rain."

Meanwhile, firefighters about 80 miles (128 kilometers) away in southern Virginia are battling a smaller fire in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Catherine Hibbard, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the blaze started when logging equipment caught fire on Monday.

Loggers had been removing white cedar trees that had been knocked down by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Hibbard said the fire has not been contained and now covers about 1,000 acres (405 hectares) on the North Carolina-Virginia border.

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