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Unprecedented Wildfires Across Louisiana Force Multiple Evacuations Amid Extreme Drought

Louisiana has recorded an unprecedented amount of wildfires in August, forcing multiple southwestern towns to evacuate Thursday and state officials to implement a burn ban.

The state is experiencing severe heat and drought conditions. In an email to CNN, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry spokesperson Jennifer Finely said 441 fires have burned from August 1 to August 24.

At least 8,385 acres have burned from August 1 to August 25, Finley said, adding the number of acreage does not include the still-burning fire on Tiger Island, estimated to be more than 20,000 acres.

“Tiger Island will not be known until it is out,” she said.

As of Friday evening, there were at least six fires burning in Livingston, Sabine, Vernon and Beauregard Parishes.

Gov. John Bel Edwards met with state and local officials Friday to assess the numerous wildfires burning throughout the state. At a Friday news conference in Beauregard Parish, where numerous communities are under mandatory evacuation, Edwards said officials are not dealing with one fire but fires all over the state “in a way that is very alarming.”

According to CNN Weather, drought conditions have erupted quickly in southwest Louisiana, leaving 6% of the state in exceptional drought conditions. Nearly 50% of the state is in extreme conditions or worse. Around 77% of the state is in a severe drought or worse. In mid-July, there was no extreme drought in Louisiana.

“Nobody alive in Louisiana has ever seen these conditions,” Edwards said. “It’s never been this hot, this dry, for this long.”

“To have these fires burning the way they are and jumping fire lines, and when the wind picks up to have the fires burning in the crowns of trees rather than on the ground and low where they can be more easily contained, makes for a very difficult and dangerous situation,” the governor said.

In response to the extreme fire conditions, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued a statewide burn ban on all agricultural burning, according to a Friday news release from the department.

“Due to an increase in fire danger across Louisiana, the previous burn ban order issued August 7th has been rescinded and reissued with an update for all agricultural burns, including but not limited to prescribed burns, to be temporarily prohibited until further notice,” the release said.

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal also implemented a burn ban on all private burning, according to the news release.

The governor has urged citizens to adhere to the statewide burn ban.

“You should not be lighting a barbecue grill anywhere in the state of Louisiana today,” Edwards said.

He added the National Guard is assisting in the efforts and the state has requested federal assistance and has looked to other states to help combat the flames.

Speaking in Beauregard Parish, the governor said, “Louisiana National Guard has right at 100 soldiers active in this area in the firefight. They’re authorized to go up to 300 as they need to do that.”

As of Friday morning, helicopters have moved 348 loads of water and close to 161,000 gallons have been dropped on the affected areas, according to Edwards. No fatalities have been reported, the governor said.

Town near LA-TX border under evacuation Thursday

The Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation order for the town of Merryville Thursday evening, saying the fire could reach the town limits within hours, according to Louisiana State Police. On Friday, the sheriff’s office issued further evacuation orders for Bancroft, the Ragle Road area, and the Junction community.

“It is of the utmost importance to get out now,” the Beauregard Sheriff’s office urged in an order sent to Bancroft residents.

Earlier Friday, the sheriff’s office said utilities had turned off services to the residents of Merryville. “All water should be conserved at all cost we need water to fight fires,” the agency said in a Facebook post.

During a time of year when Louisiana is typically preparing for hurricanes and tropical storms, the state is instead dealing with a growing wildfire threat.

Earlier this week there were almost 350 wildfires burning in the state, according to Mike Steele, communications director at the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Every parish in the state is under a red flag warning, according to the National Weather Service.

State emergency operations centers were activated Wednesday morning to help battle the blazes.

“This time, this year obviously we’re dealing with a different type of weather situation that requires everybody to be aware of the burn ban and to do their part to reduce the likelihood that we would have anything that could potentially start a fire,” the office’s director, Casey Tingle, said in a news conference Wednesday.

Tingle says they’re stretching their resources thin as Louisiana has been under a burn ban since August 7.

“When it comes to this time of year, typically, we’re talking about hurricanes, tropical storms, rain, flooding that sort of thing,” Tingle said, “Our public is very attuned to those type of messages and always does a great job of helping us as a state respond and recover from those events when they happen.”

“We desperately need everyone’s help in adhering to this (burn ban) order,” he said.

And there’s no relief in sight: The upcoming forecast for the area and the state is expected to be dry and hot, Tingle added.

State Fire Marshal Deputy Chief Felicia Cooper also said: “This situation is dangerous for every single one of us.”

The area of Beauregard Parish experiencing the wildfires is in severe to extreme drought. Around 77% of the state is experiencing some level of drought, which is up from 7% of the state just three months ago, according to CNN Weather.

Lake Charles, around 40 miles southeast of Merryville, has seen temperatures over 100 degrees every day since August 18 and temperatures over 95 degrees since June 29.

“Our state has never been this hot and dry and we have never had this many fires,” Edwards posted on social media Thursday. “We need you and your neighbors to help keep our communities and first responders safe. Adhere to the statewide burn ban. Don’t burn anything.”

Source : CNN