In storm season, Louisiana under haze of smoke

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2000

AP and staff reports

Louisiana’s September fears usually spring from tropical storms churning the Gulf of Mexico and flooding the streets.

Not this year.

Email newsletter signup

Triple-digit temperatures have set records in the state for the past eight days, and 340 wildfires have burned more than 12,000 tinder-dry rural acres.

Drought has gripped south Louisiana for 30 months and meteorologists blame smoke from forest fires near and far for a thick haze that has settled the past couple of days over New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Heat and dry weather have been blamed for large fish kills, stressed cotton and corn crops – even an increase in alligators finding their way into residential areas in search of food.

In Concordia Parish, customers of Concordia Waterworks District No. 1 have been asked to conserve water because the drought has strained the district’s supply, and Entergy customers were asked last week to conserve energy because of the high demand for energy.

On Tuesday, Concordia Parish Fire District No. 2 firefighters worked for about four hours to contain a grass fire on Louisiana 15 near Deer Park.

&uot;It burned about five acres on the levee,&uot; said Fire Chief Nolen Cothren. &uot;The wind picked it up and just carried it.&uot;

Concordia firefighters also put out a grass fire Monday night on U.S. 84 near Ferriday, Cothren said. But he does not think a burn ban — like one in place in Adams County — will do much good because he’s afraid people won’t pay attention to it. And Cothren said Concordia Parish has not seen enough wildfires per day to warrant a burn ban, either. Still, he knows the dry conditions are contributing to the problem.

&uot;We’re praying, we’re hoping, for rain,&uot; he said.

A break in the heat was expected by Wednesday, but drought relief was nowhere in sight and states of emergency have been declared by local governments fearing the spread of wildfire. Gov. Mike Foster was considering declaring parts of the state disaster areas so the National Guard could be brought in to help fight fires.

Mercury readings in Shreveport, Alexandria and Monroe have lingered at around 108 degrees, breaking heat records day after day. Temperatures in the upper 90s have set records in New Orleans.

”This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom said after traveling Tuesday to the site of a fire that threatened a neighborhood on the edge of Logansport, in northwestern Louisiana’s DeSoto Parish.

So far this year, Louisiana has lost a record 57,000 acres to fire. Most of the Louisiana fires have hit remote areas, however, six rural homes have burned.

All of this comes at the height of hurricane season, when a lack of water is usually the least of the state’s worries.

But, despite predictions of an active season, the Gulf Coast has seen little in the way of tropical weather this year. Gulf moisture has fueled a few brief, though intense, thunderstorms in Louisiana, but not enough to affect the drought or end the heat wave.

That may have some people praying for a drenching from a tropical storm, but state climatologist Jay Grymes said that is not what the state needs.

Grymes said trees made weak and brittle by the drought would be heavily damaged or destroyed by the wind of a tropical storm.

And the heavy rain would be little help, said meteorologist Sean Hefrich of the National Weather Service.

”We prefer not to have any tropical weather affecting us, because it tends to create an overabundance of water that soils can’t handle anyway. Most would turn into runoff and not alleviate any drought conditions,” said Sean Hefrich, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Added Grymes: ”While we desperately need steady rainfall, we don’t need a tropical storm.”

On The Net:

Climate Prediction Center: