Hundreds of wildfires burning across Louisiana have killed two people and burned through an estimated 60,000 acres of land, state officials said on Tuesday as they warned that the dangerously dry conditions are expected to continue.
The biggest of the wildfires, the Tiger Island Fire, in southwest Louisiana near the Texas border, has been burning for a week, engulfing more than 30,000 acres since Aug. 22. As of Tuesday, it was just 50 percent contained, local officials said.
It is “one of the worst wildfires that we’ve seen since at least the Second World War,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference.
Louisiana has seen nearly 600 fires in August, exacerbated by triple-digit temperatures that broke records in parts of the state and “the strongest drought that we’ve ever recorded,” Mr. Edwards said.
Though temperatures are expected to cool slightly, even small shifts in wind and humidity levels could make fire conditions “even more critically dangerous” in the coming days, Mr. Edwards warned.
Louisiana’s emergency response teams are relatively inexperienced with wildfires, he added, saying they would have to receive more training and resources because “this is the new normal with climate change.”
Bouts of rain in recent days have allowed firefighters to catch up on some containment efforts but have not eased the tinderbox conditions that challenged them for weeks, state officials said on Tuesday as they pleaded with the public to comply with a statewide ban on any private burning. As of Friday, the ban now extends to all agricultural burning, barbecues, campfires and fire pits.
“Conditions are still very dangerous,” despite the “hour or two of rain” in recent days, the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal said on Facebook on Tuesday.
The office said that it was still investigating the two deaths.
In the first case, on Aug. 17, in Washington Parish, a body believed to be that of a 72-year-old man with mobility challenges was found in the burned remains of his home. Deputies believe the fire began outside his home, where they found evidence of several burn piles on the property, some just feet away. They have been unable to determine which of the piles, if any, had been active, the office said.
On Sunday, in St. Tammany Parish, a deputy was driving in the Folsom area when he spotted a brush fire that had spread to a shed. Crews that were called to extinguish the fire found an unconscious woman, who was taken to a New Orleans hospital in critical condition. She later died.
The office said the woman, 84, was believed to have been actively burning a debris pile when she fell into the fire. Her stepdaughter told the local news channel WWL-TV that she had early symptoms of dementia. “I couldn’t get her to understand,” she said, adding, “I think she kept forgetting how dangerous it was.”
“Our hearts are broken for this family,” said State Fire Marshal Dan Wallis. “Doing any activity involving fire right now can lead to tragedy for you, your loved ones, your neighbors and your community.”