City of New Orleans and Partners Provide Updates on Underground Wildfire Response Efforts & Impacts
NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD), New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP), Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) today provided updates on the active wildfire that is currently burning underground in forested wetlands on private property between Bayou Sauvage National Urban Wildlife Refuge and the Michoud Canal. The City of New Orleans and partner agencies are coordinating efforts to address this situation and are actively working to mitigate this incident.
Due to the extremely dry conditions statewide throughout the year, the Office of Louisiana State Fire Marshal issued a statewide burn ban, which prohibits all private burning pursuant to authority under R.S. 40:1602, in August 2023. As a reminder, open fires are prohibited by law at all times in the City of New Orleans. The lack of any significant amount of rain and extreme heat throughout the summer has also dried out the wetlands and reduced the depth of the water table. This fire has been burning at and below surface level and burned over 200 acres thus far. The biggest hazard from this active incident is smoke that is impacting air quality and driver visibility. There are no immediate threats to residential or commercial structures in the area at this time.
The location of the underground wildfire is bounded by two pipelines, three canals and railroad tracks. Additionally, there is no fire hydrant service to the area, and any form of suppression efforts from above the surface has little to no effect extinguishing this underground wildfire. Because the fire is deep inside a hard-to-access part of the wetland, NOFD has been working with the property owner and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) to deploy heavy equipment and to continue clearing stable access for the pumps and heavy equipment. LDAF used excavation equipment to cut additional fire lines and dig trenches to flood the interior areas of the property where the fire is burning underground. With close guidance from federal and state partners, NOFD was strongly advised to pump massive amounts of water to the areas to saturate the wildfire that is burning underground.
SWBNO has been assisting response efforts to the wildfire since Oct. 19, at the request of NOFD, as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and will continue to support any responding agency in any way possible. SWBNO’s Drainage Team and Facilities Maintenance Team provided two pumps and trucks to assist in this call to service and are currently working to divert water from the local bayous and canals. On Monday, Nov. 6, the City of New Orleans transported five pumps on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to NOFD in addition to the two pumps supplied by SWBNO. These seven pumps are producing a total of 1.4 million gallons of water per hour from nearby drainage canals to flood the impacted area of the wildfire.
Because this underground wildfire is burning on private property rather than public or federally operated land, local officials were informed that federal resources are unlikely to be available in this effort; however, City officials will continue to push state and federal partners for support.
Wetland fire smoke, in combination with dense fog, could cause dangerous driving conditions. LaDOTD received a request for assistance from the City on Oct. 16 and subsequently deployed two portable message signs on Oct. 22. Additionally, LaDOTD activated four permanent message signs along I-10 and I-510 that continue to caution motorists about low visibility conditions. Drivers are urged to use extreme caution during the morning and evening commute when fog is present.
The National Weather Service (NWS) forecast indicates that fog potential will be increasing tonight and Wednesday night across the New Orleans area, and at the same time, weather conditions will tend to result in any smoke from the wildfire in New Orleans East being trapped near the surface, slowly moving in a north or northwesterly direction. The smoke plume will likely cross I-10 somewhere between I-510 and Irish Bayou and could result in sharp visibility drops over short distances. All motorists in the area should be prepared for sudden changes in visibility and use extreme caution when driving through the area during the late night and early morning hours. By Thursday night into Friday morning, wind direction will begin to shift, and the smoke plume may move in more of a westerly direction, bringing it into the more densely populated portions of the city.
FREE MASKS FOR AREAS IMPACTED BY SMOKE
In coordination with NOHSEP, the City of New Orleans is distributing free N95 and KN95 masks to communities impacted by the wetlands fire smoke. Individuals in need of free masks are encouraged to stop by the following locations:
- New Orleans East Regional Library, 5641 Read Blvd., Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday - Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Joe Brown Recreation Center, 5601 Read Blvd., Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Sanchez Multi-Service Center, 1616 Fats Domino Ave., Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Algiers Regional Library, 3014 Holiday Drive, Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday - Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
HEALTH IMPACTS & SAFETY TIPS
Individuals should keep an eye out for these symptoms related to wildfire smoke:
- Coughing or shortness of breath
- Scratchy or sore throat
- Chest pains
- Burning pain in eyes
- Runny nose or inflamed sinuses
Air Quality Tips for Dealing with Smoke:
- Limit time spent outdoors as much as possible
- Keep windows closed
- Run A/C on recirculation mode and use a clean filter
- Wear a face covering or N95/KN95 mask, if outside
If You Must Drive in Foggy Conditions, Keep the Following Safety Tips in Mind:
- Slow down and allow extra time to reach your destination.
- Make your vehicle visible to others both ahead of you and behind you by using your low-beam headlights since this means your taillights will also be on. Use fog lights if you have them.
- Never use your high-beam lights. Using high beam lights causes glare, making it more difficult for you to see what’s ahead of you on the road.
- Leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to account for sudden stops or changes in the traffic pattern.
- In extremely dense fog where visibility is near zero, the best course of action is to first turn on your hazard lights, then simply pull into a safe location such as a parking lot of a local business and stop.
- If there is no parking lot or driveway to pull into, pull your vehicle off to the side of the road as far as possible. Once you come to a stop, turn off all lights except your hazard flashing lights, set the emergency brake and take your foot off of the brake pedal to be sure the taillights are not illuminated so that other drivers don't mistakenly run into you.
Residents are encouraged to sign up for NOLA Ready emergency text alerts by texting NOLAREADY (one word) to 77295.