Louisiana Fights Wildfires Due to Extreme Heat and Dry Weather

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Hundreds of wildfires are burning in Louisiana, as triple-digit temperatures continue to scorch parts of the state amid little chance of relief because of the lack of rain in the forecast.

While many of the fires are small, one grew “tremendously” overnight in west Louisiana — leading to evacuation orders and burning more than 10,000 acres of land, approximately 16 square miles (41 square km). Officials say that at times, flames reached heights of 300 feet (91 meters).

Known as the Tiger Island Fire, the single blaze has accounted for more acres of burned land than the statewide annual average over the last decade. The wildfire is now threatening the approximately 1,000-person town of Merryville, in Beauregard Parish. While most residents are under a voluntary evacuation order, a mandatory evacuation was issued Wednesday for about 100 people in the area.

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There have been no reports of injuries or destroyed structures at this time.

“While we are urgently responding to the current situation in Beauregard Parish, our first responders have been fighting an unprecedented number of wildfires throughout the state,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Wednesday.

Usually during this time of year, the Deep South state is addressing the threats of imminent hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding. But this summer has instead seen drought and record-breaking heat, which have made the wildfire risk in Louisiana unusually high. In June, July and August, there have been more than 230 wildfires in the state, which have burned more than 6,500 acres of land, 10 square miles (25 square km). Fire officials say that, as a result, homes have been destroyed, but they did not specify how many. This does not include the Tiger Island Fire.

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“As soon as we put one (fire) out, others are popping up,” Jennifer Finley, a spokesperson for Louisiana’s Department of Agriculture & Forestry, said on Wednesday.

Edwards and fire officials say many of the blazes could have been prevented if residents adhered to a statewide burn ban that has been in effect since early August.

“Firefighters from around the state are being worn thin as a result of responding to several illegal burn piles and brush fires, which are more frequently turning into larger wildfires because of the dangerous conditions,” State Fire Marshal Dan Wallis said. “We are pleading with the public to cooperate with this burn ban.”

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During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, fire officials stressed how easily fires can start in these dry conditions — saying that something as small as throwing cigarette butts out a car window, sparks from dragging safety trailer chains, warm exhaust pipes on grass or even cooking outside could lead to devastating consequences.

“We want to bring awareness to the fact that there is a threat out there … that only takes a spark to become a reality for all of us,” Casey Tingle, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said.

Hot weather has scorched southern Louisiana this summer, as heat records globally are being broken. On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for southeast Louisiana – including Baton Rouge and New Orleans — with heat indexes estimated to reach up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius)

The state’s Department of Health reported Tuesday that there have been 25 heat-related deaths this summer. In addition, there have been 4,766 heat-related emergency department visits in Louisiana since the beginning of April, which is 77% higher than the annual average over the last decade.

Last week, Edwards declared a state of emergency because of extreme heat.


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