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Louisiana wildfires force more evacuations; 17 parishes under state of emergency

An image of a wildfire in Beauregard Parish from drone video taken Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023.
Louisiana State Police
An image of a wildfire in Beauregard Parish from drone video taken Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023.

This story was originally published on the Louisiana Illuminator.

Unpredictable winds, continued extreme heat and ultra-dry conditions fueled wildfires Saturday in western Louisiana, with officials ordering more residents to evacuate late into the evening.

“There’s nobody alive who’s seen conditions this dangerous,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday afternoon at the Vernon Parish Emergency Operations Center.

Fires have caused the most damage in Beauregard Parish, and evacuation orders continued into the night there and to the immediate north in portions of Vernon Parish.

In all, 17 parishes have declared a state of emergency for wildfires, most in the forested central and western sections of Louisiana, but also in some of the pine-laden Florida Parishes along its Mississippi border, as well as St. John the Baptist, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes in the southeast where dry swampland and coastal marsh are prevalent.

The Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office estimates 50,000 to 60,000 acres have burned so far. While the Tiger Isle fire between Merryville and Singer has consumed the most acreages, seven other fires popped up, according to the sheriff’s office.

The governor said 21 homes in Beauregard Parish have been destroyed by fire in recent days, but there have been no injuries or loss of life. Police went door to door Saturday afternoon in threatened areas to alert residents of the danger and to be prepared in case of an evacuation order.

In the parish seat of DeRidder, nursing homes were evacuated out of an abundance of caution because of the fast-moving nature of the Tiger Isle fire, just 10 miles southwest of the city.

In Vernon Parish, firefighters worked well into Saturday night to control a fire in the Lions Camp Road area near Anacoco. U.S. Highway 171 between Anacoco and Leesville remained closed late Saturday because of the fire.

KPLC-TV reported that overnight rains helped contain fires in Vernon Parish that broke out Friday, but more hot and dry weather Saturday made conditions favorable for new ones. As of midafternoon Saturday, the governor said fire claimed three homes in the parish.

“We know that fires keep popping up because people continue to engage in normal behavior even though conditions are as bad as they are,” the governor said.

With local and state officials at his side, Edwards stressed there was no certainty on when the threat of wildfires would pass. In western Louisiana, he said experts have classified conditions as D4 drought, the most severe category.

An approaching weather front is expected to lower temperatures slightly in Louisiana early this week, but the governor said it will also bring drier conditions that will contribute to the wildfire risk.

“We’re not going to get enough rainfall to change conditions on the ground, that’s what the National Weather Service is telling us,” he said.

One death has been attributed to the wildfires in Louisiana. A man perished in his Franklinton home Aug. 17 when a brush fire spread rapidly, according to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Louisiana is already receiving assistance from outside the state to combat the fires, and Edwards said more is on the way. A Chinook helicopter from the Oklahoma National Guard arrived Saturday and was immediately put to work, and two Blackhawk helicopters from Tennessee are expected in the coming days.

Firefighters and tanker trucks from Texas, Mississippi and Florida are also part of firefighting efforts in Louisiana, according to the governor.

A statewide burn ban and a prohibition on prescribed agricultural burns is in place indefinitely.

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