Originally created 04/09/06

Across the southeast



Fire mostly contained inside national park

GROTTOES, Va. - Firefighters had managed to contain most of a blaze at Shenandoah National Park by Saturday morning, after they stepped up their efforts and got some help from the rain.

By Saturday morning, the blaze had consumed about 1,100 acres, more than double the acreage Thursday, said Julena Campbell, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. But the good news was that the fire was about 70 percent contained, compared to just 30 percent Thursday, park officials said.

Authorities believe the fire, which has been described as mostly slow-burning and not very hot, began Monday night with a lightning strike. It has not threatened homes or other buildings, they said.

Bridge damaged in storm will be sunk

PENSACOLA, FLA. - The damaged Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay is set to become a concrete haven for fish and other marine life.

The 2-mile bridge is in line to be sunk in the Large Area Artificial Reef Site, which encompasses about 125 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 miles south of Pensacola, officials said.

Hurricane Ivan wrecked the bridge in September 2004, with pieces of the structure ripped away by the bay's roiling waters. A wider, taller, $243 million bridge is under construction.

Workers could begin dismantling the old I-10 bridge in January or February. The contractor has a $10 million incentive to finish the new eastbound span, which will handle four lanes of traffic, by Dec. 29.

"Once there are four lanes across the bay, the contractor will start demolishing the old bridges," said Bryan Estock, the project manager for the I-10 bridge replacement project.

The USS Oriskany, an 880-foot decommissioned aircraft carrier, is scheduled to be sunk May 17 in the artificial reef area. It will join M-60 tanks, parts of oil rigs and sunken tug boats already on the Gulf bottom.

Zoo opens exhibit of naked mole-rats

KNOXVILLE, TENN. - The Knoxville Zoo joined a handful of zoos in opening its "Naturally Naked Mole-Rats" exhibit March 31.

Natives of Africa, naked mole-rats are the only eusocial mammals, meaning they live in a colony ruled by a queen, the only female who reproduces.

Zoos are spreading the critters to other zoos when their colonies grow too large and need to be split.

Knoxville got one colony of 16 animals from the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla., late last year and then another of 39 animals in March from the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, N.M.