Governor: Singer, Merryville, Bancroft wildfires ‘not contained’
Published 6:11 pm Friday, August 25, 2023
The wildfires in the Singer, Merryville and Bancroft communities continue to be “dangerous and fluid.”
“The message is, it is not contained,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards during a stop at Singer High School Friday afternoon after a flyover of the area where wildfires have consumed more than 30,000 acres.
Don’t add to the danger by coming to the area for a look-see. Don’t fire up the pit for a barbecue, it is that dangerous, according to state and local officials.
Email newsletter signup
“Nobody alive in Louisiana has ever seen these conditions,” Edwards said. “It has never been this hot, this dry for this long and to have these fires burning the way they are and jumping firelines … we will continue to do everything we can to bring in every resource that we can to this situation to bring it under control as soon as possible.”
If there is anything positive to report, it is that there has been no loss of life, and Beauregard Parish EOP Director Scott Green said no firefighters have reported being injured.
There is no legal burning anywhere in the state of Louisiana right now. The situation is dire not only in Beauregard, but all over the state, the governor said, adding that fires were also burning in Tangipahoa and Washington parishes at this time. The state isn’t just suffering from a drought, but a D — the highest designation by the National Weather Service.
“We’ve never had to fight this many fires simultaneously and for this duration and intensity,” said State Agricultural Commissioner Mike Strain. “We are fighting 25 to 30 fires (across the state). “Currently we are working to divert the fire around the Town of Merryville.”
He said he is bringing in four strike teams that have their own assets. The first will arrive from Florida on Sunday.
Shifting winds add to the danger, and burning ash has been found as far as 20 miles from the northwest parish area where as many as nine fires were involved at one point, Strain said. When winds pick up and shift, crowns of trees become engulfed, fueling and spreading the fire in that manner, rather than lower down where firefighters are working nonstop and fire lanes have been plowed eight and nine times wider than usual.
“We thought we had the fire pretty much contained early yesterday, 85 percent. That afternoon the wind switched. It had been pretty much a southerly wind and it shifted due east with gusts up to 30 miles an hour. It was like a bellows pumping air on that fire. It was pushing it toward the city of Merryville. It came within 3,500 feet on the east side, good for Merryville but bad for The Junction.”
The Beauregard Parish/Tiger Island wildfires started Monday and the sheriff said the incident is under investigation. Before Aug. 21 and after the burn ban issued on Aug. 7, Beauregard Parish firefighting personnel had already been called out to 134 fires, according to BP Sheriff Mark Hereford.
“If we put out a mandatory evacuation order, and we just put one out for Bancroft, it is because the fire is approaching that area. Staying poses a significant risk. Winds may change 15 minutes after we issue an order. I know it is inconvenient to pack a bag and leave but trust me when I tell you we don’t take issuing those orders lightly. If we issue them, we need you to comply with them and go. And, if it does change and nothing happens in your neighborhood, that’s nothing to be frustrated about. It’s just a miracle that it didn’t do that it didn’t do what we were expecting it to do. Our firefighters are exhausted. Thankfully, our state and national partners have jumped in to help us, but we could really use the public to help us as well,” Hereford said.
In addition to not visiting to see the tragedy firsthand and run the risk of winding up in an area difficult to navigate away from, it is important to dispose of cigarette butts properly. Chains should be secured on vehicles. He cautioned the use of vehicles, machinery and equipment in dry grass areas.
Obey the roadblocks. Hereford said the smoke can mean low to zero visibility in some areas and some firefighters were almost struck by traffic.
State Agricultural Commissioner Strain said before the Beauregard Parish wildfires began earlier this week, the drought’s impact on foraging, hay and pasture was assessed to be around $260 million. Loss of timber can be figured at $1,000 to $1,500 an acre.