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Louisiana wildfires lead to second fatality; some evacuation orders lifted

An aerial shot of burned land in Beauregard Parish on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023.
Beauregard Parish Sherriff's Office
An aerial shot of burned land in Beauregard Parish on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023.

This story was originally published on the Louisiana Illuminator.

A State Fire Marshal deputy found an 84-year-old St. Tammany Parish woman unconscious Sunday afternoon after discovering a brush fire on her property. The woman was taken to a New Orleans hospital, where she died from her injuries, WVUE-TV reports.

The fatality is the second this month attributed to wildfires in Louisiana, where officials continue to stress the need for residents to adhere to a statewide burn ban. Although temperatures are expected to back down slightly from record levels this week, the forecast still doesn’t call for substantial rain — which first responders have said is key to reducing the wildfire threat.

“If you could pray for rain, that would be much appreciated,” Beauregard Parish Sheriff Mark Herford told viewers during a Facebook Live update Sunday morning.

The fatality reported in St. Tammany Parish ended what had otherwise been a comparatively uneventful day elsewhere in the state as first responders continued to battle wildfires in other parts of Louisiana, hopeful that much needed rainfall would assist their efforts.

Authorities in Beauregard Parish, where more than 30,000 acres have been burned in the Tiger Isle fire outside of Merryville, reported 50% containment by day’s end Sunday after completing a thermal map imaging of the fire.

A mandatory evacuation order was lifted within the city limits of Merryville, where power has been restored and gas service could resume Monday. Residents in areas east, north and northeast of Merryville, where part of Sunday’s firefighting efforts were concentrated, continue to be under a mandatory evacuation order.

Virtual classes were planned Monday for schools in Merryville and Singer, with no indication provided on when in-person attendance would resume.

Thunderstorms that formed Sunday in the area of the Tiger Isle fire appeared to promise relief, but they also generated winds that complicated containment efforts. Gusts reached 30 to 40 mph, according to Operations Section Chief Peter Myers with the National Interagency Fire Center’s Southern Area Incident Management Team.

Crews on the ground in Beauregard Parish used bulldozers and tractor plows to create firebreaks to contain the fire, while National Guard helicopters dropped water from above. Overnight, a crew of more than 40 firefighters, seven fire engines and two bulldozers were on duty to keep the blaze in check.

In Vernon Parish to the immediate north, all evacuation orders were lifted Sunday morning, according to KPLC-TV. Officials declared fires near Anacoco and the Providence community under control.

In Central Louisiana, authorities in Rapides Parish were asking for the public’s assistance in finding the person they say is responsible for multiple fires Thursday in Union Hill. KALB-TV reports the Louisiana Forestry Association is offering up to a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arson suspect.

Late Sunday night, WAFB-TV reported West Baton Rouge Parish firefighters responded to a blaze in a wooded area near Addis. The fire broke out near a hunting camp and apartment complex, a fire department spokesperson said.

Early indications are the elderly woman from St. Tammany who perished Sunday might have been burning a debris pile and fell into the fire, which had spread to a shed on the property.

“This is a horrific situation that should stun every single person in this state,” State Fire Marshall Dan Wallis said in a statement. “These conditions are not exaggerated and they affect every one of us, even if you can’t see the flames and your community isn’t under threat of wildfire today. Doing any activity involving fire right now can lead to tragedy for you, your loved ones, your neighbors and your community.”

Sunday’s fatality is the second in Louisiana attributed to wildfires this month. In Washington Parish, a 72-year-old disabled man died Aug. 17 when a nearby fire spread to his home, according to a fire marshal’s report. Investigators found evidence of several burn piles on the property, including some just feet away from the residence.

The statewide burn ban, put in place Aug. 7, remains in effect indefinitely. All prescribed burns for agricultural purposes have also been stopped for the time being.

A state of emergency has been declared in 17 Louisiana parishes for wildfires.

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