Governor declares burn ban

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2000

AP and staff reports

In response to the extremely dry conditions, Gov. Mike Foster declared a state of emergency Wednesday in 39 parishes — including Concordia, Catahoula and Tensas parishes.

Foster also ordered a burn ban in those parishes, and that ban will stay in effect until the fire danger is reduced.

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&uot;If this ban helps cut down on the number of fires we have to fight I’m all for it,&uot;&160;said Chief Nolen Cothren of Concordia Parish Fire District No. 2.

&uot;Most people are going to be real careful with burning anyway when it’s this dry, but you’re always going to have people who do what they want to do regardless,&uot;&160;he added.

The fire district will cases of illegal burning over to the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office for further action, Cothren said.

Just over 27 inches of rain, more than 10.5 inches less than normal, have fallen in the Concordia Parish area in the year to date, making for extremely dry conditions.

Firefighters have fought seven grass fires in as many days throughout Concordia Parish, although most of them were smaller fires and were quickly contained.

Foster’s action came one day after a statewide burn ban was declared for Mississippi. Burn bans are usually issued when an area has not only low rainfall but also daily high wind speeds, low humidity and a high number of grass fires, according to Louis Heaton, chief of forest protection of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

In Louisiana, at least 104 fires in 25 parishes were being fought by hundreds of firefighters and state forestry employees. Members of the Louisiana National Guard were summoned to dig fire lines with bulldozers and drop water from helicopters.

Three fires broke out late Tuesday in Allen and Evangeline parishes, and, pushed on by high winds that accompanied a cool front, merged into a seven mile-by-five mile inferno consuming 20,000 acres of bone-dry timber and destroying one home. ‘The fire is huge,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Odom. ”We had three fires merge along the Allen Parish-Evangeline Parish line last night between Oberlin and Oakdale.”

He said 30,000 acres may burn before the fire is brought under control. He was unable to say when firefighters would be able to contain the fires.

Another fire burned 2,000 acres along the Vernon-Rapides parish lines. Firefighters were putting the final touches on dousing a 2,510-acre fire in DeSoto Parish. After dawn Wednesday, a 100-acre fire was reported along Toledo Bend in southern Sabine Parish.

”It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Odom said. On average, 40 wild fires are burning each day, he added.

Arson was suspected in both the Allen-Evangeline and Vernon-Rapides fires, but no arrests had been made, said state forestry spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue. Allen Parish Sheriff Hall Turner was more blunt: ”There’s absolutely no doubt that these fires were intentionally set.”

No deaths or injuries were reported, although some homes were threatened by the latest round of fires.

Some residents chose to evacuate as a precaution, but authorities could not provide numbers, saying most left and returned to their homes within a matter of hours. Several hundred people evacuated Allen Parish’s Ward community, south of Oakdale, on Tuesday night, Turner said.

”They’re just trying to save people’s lives and their homes and their property,” said Dorothy Sue Hill, a resident who lives west of Oberlin.

Before Wednesday’s huge blaze in Allen-Evangeline, more than 340 fires had destroyed 12,000 acres over five days, bringing the year’s loss from wildfires to 57,000 acres, far above the 10-year average of 27,000 acres, state officials said.

At least 10 homes and hunting camps have burned in the past week. Fires also have destroyed 23 other structures such as barns and storage sheds.

Fifty members of the National Guard from Lake Charles and Alexandria and 150 state agriculture employees joined volunteer and timber company firefighters Wednesday. Helicopter bases were set up in Woodworth and Oberlin.