Aug 30, 2023 - Climate

Louisiana battles wildfires, drought and extreme heat: "Not your average summer"

A statewide burn ban is in effect as firefighters work to contain fires across Louisiana. Photo: Courtesy of Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture and Forestry

Louisianans have a new weather threat to worry about in the middle of hurricane season: wildfires.

Why it matters: Louisiana has had nearly 600 wildfires this month, and evacuation orders are in place in parts of the state. So far, two people have died, and the fires have caused millions in damage to homes, crops and forests, officials say.

  • And, the smoke is spreading, causing hazy conditions and prompting air quality warnings for people with respiratory and cardiac issues.
  • "It's not your average summer," NOLA Ready spokesperson Anna Nguyen tells Axios, saying the drought and record-breaking heat are leading to deadly outcomes.

Driving the news: 90% of Louisiana is in a drought. Nearly 50%, including parts of Orleans and Jefferson parishes, is in an extreme or exceptional drought, which are the most intense classifications from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

  • New Orleans is 23 inches below normal rainfall for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.
  • Monday's rain helped some, but heat and gusty winds returned Tuesday, bringing back the fire threat, according to the Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program. See the state map of wildfires.
Image shows a map of Louisiana with drought classifications marked out
Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

Meanwhile, the state is in the middle of an intense heat wave. On Sunday, New Orleans set a new all-time record for its hottest day: 105.

  • So far, 28 people have died this summer in Louisiana from heat-related causes, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

What he's saying: "The conditions Louisiana is facing are unprecedented, and unfortunately there is no evidence it's going to end any time soon," said Gov. John Bel Edwards on Sunday.

Threat level: A statewide burn ban is in effect under further notice.

  • Wildfires have burned about 60,000 acres so far, according to the governor's office.
  • "Continue to pray for more rain," Edwards wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

Zoom in: The largest blaze is the Tiger Island fire, which has consumed 33,294 acres in west Louisiana since Aug. 22. It is about 50% contained, Edwards said Tuesday.

  • First responders are fighting the fire by land and air with help from local, state, regional and federal partners.

Worth noting: There were no active wildfires or grass fires in New Orleans as of noon Tuesday, according to NOFD Capt. Edwin Holmes.

  • Previous fires in Bayou Sauvage and near Michoud are no longer burning.

Be smart: Officials are urging residents to take precautions against the heat and wildfires. Here are some safety tips from the state Department of Health.

  • Evacuate from the area if you are threatened by fire.
  • If there is an air quality advisory, stay indoors and keep the windows and doors closed.
  • Do not go outside if there is a large amount of smoke outdoors.
  • If possible, keep your air conditioner's fresh air intake closed and ensure the filter is clean.
  • If you do not have air conditioning, seek out a local shelter and/or cooling center. (New Orleans cooling center map)
  • Air filters and purifiers can help reduce particle levels indoors. The type and size of the air purifiers should fit the size of the room or house.
  • Dust masks do not provide protection and will not protect from the smaller particles.
  • Check on your loved ones and neighbors, especially older adults.

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