Flooding aids in battling New Orleans East swamp fire

November 14, 2023

Efforts to extinguish the fire intensify

The New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) has been actively working to extinguish a swamp fire on the east edge of New Orleans.

Recently, efforts to flood the burning area with water from a nearby drainage canal have been intensified, with the Army Corps of Engineers providing five additional portable pumps to aid the process.

These efforts have successfully extinguished nearly a quarter of the 200-acre fire.

However, the added water might be causing an increase in smoke production, leading to concerns about air quality and visibility.

Impact on the community and environment

The fire, burning since October 14, has caused significant disruptions in the New Orleans East area.

Dense smoke combined with fog has led to traffic congestion, school delays, and even deadly accidents.

On a recent Tuesday, a man was killed, and eight others were injured in vehicle crashes during a “super fog” event.

Late last month, a similar situation on Interstate 55 resulted in a massive pile-up, causing seven fatalities and numerous injuries.

The smoke from the fire has also led to health concerns among residents, with reports of eye and nose irritation, nausea, and respiratory illnesses.

The city has responded by distributing face masks at libraries and recreation centers and advising vulnerable populations to stay indoors.

Swamp fire: Challenges in fire management

The swamp fire presents unique challenges due to its location in dense, boggy soil, known as peat, which can smolder for extended periods.

The NOFD, lacking personnel trained in wildland firefighting and the necessary equipment, has mostly relied on water pumps to manage the fire.

This approach contrasts with the multi-agency response to a similar fire last month in Jean Lafitte, where direct methods like hand tools, aerial water drops, and portable sprinklers were employed.

The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry has contributed by sending bulldozers to contain the fire.

However, they have refrained from deploying wildland firefighters, as their policy does not include intervention in wetland fires.

Wetland characteristics and climate concerns

The land affected by the fire is a swamp, dominated by trees such as tallow, willow, oak, and hackberry.

Months of drought have dried up many watery patches in the swamp, allowing the peat to heat up and potentially self-combust.

Deputy Superintendent Roman Nelson from the NOFD highlighted the need for the city to prepare for similar fires in the future, given the changing climate patterns leading to hotter, drier summers.

FSJA Comment

The ongoing swamp fire in New Orleans East underscores a growing environmental and safety concern in the face of climate change.

The fire’s persistence and impact on air quality and traffic safety highlight the complex challenges faced by fire departments in managing such incidents.

The situation also raises important questions about preparedness and resource allocation for future fires in similar landscapes.

The collaborative efforts between various agencies and the adaptation of strategies to deal with these unique fires reflect a proactive approach to environmental management.

However, the increasing frequency of such incidents calls for more comprehensive planning and resource investment to safeguard communities and ecosystems.

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