During weeks of record-breaking heat and severe drought conditions, over 450 fires have blazed across the state of Louisiana, causing an estimated two deaths so far.
The Tiger Island Fire is now the largest wildfire in the state’s history. Between Friday and Sunday, it grew from approximately 15,000 acres to over 33,000 acres, and is currently only 50 percent contained. An estimated 20 structures in Beauregard Parish and Merryville have been destroyed, with the area's 1,200 residents forced to evacuate.
Wildfires and Air Quality
“Wildfires this many and of this intensity are unprecedented,” Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Department, told The Washington Post. “With this kind of heat, the low humidity and the lack of rainfall, this is probably the driest conditions, the most drought-prone conditions we’ve had in a generation."
According to Strain, the state averages 771 wildfires a year, but the past several weeks have seen over 21 wildfires per day. This is unusual for Louisiana, as it is one of the states that sees the most precipitation throughout the year.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 77 percent of the state is experiencing severe drought conditions, impacting over 4.2 million residents. The conditions in Beauregard Parish have been dubbed "exceptional," which is the most extreme classification.
On Sunday, the Agriculture and Forestry Department recorded 14 wildfires in less than 10 minutes that were caused by lightning strikes. This occurred as the state saw record-breaking temperatures, with the New Orleans International Airport seeing numbers as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday.
The fires have not yet reached New Orleans, but air quality in the city has been severely impacted. While the smoke and fires can be somewhat subdued by rainfall, Strain added that only a "significant" amount could truly curtail it.
“We are in this fight for the long haul,” he said. “We expect this fight to continue until we get significant rainfall.”