An air quality alert was issued for Baton Rouge Wednesday morning because of particulate pollution in the air from a marsh fire near New Orleans, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The air quality index was raised from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Children and elderly should limit their outdoor activities, according to DEQ.
People with asthma, allergies or other breathing problems should also avoid being outside for long periods of time, according to DEQ. Other people should avoid being outside for extended periods if smoke is in the air.
The continuing fire in the Bayou Sauvage area in eastern New Orleans means that levels of particulate matter - very small pieces of material in the air that can cause health problems - could fluctuate between moderate (yellow on the air quality index) to unhealthy (red on the air quality index).
Smoke from the fire was first detected around Baton Rouge on Tuesday and got worse in certain areas Tuesday evening.
The haze around Baton Rouge and surrounding areas continued Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered the National Guard to help New Orleans with aerial firefighting.
By sunset Tuesday, four National Guard helicopters had dropped more than 116,000 gallons of water over small fires just north of La. 90 and east of Industrial Road in New Orleans, said Staff Sgt. Denis Ricou, a National Guard spokesman.
On Tuesday evening, the National Guard planned to send five additional helicopters into the area Wednesday to help fight the fire, Ricou said.
Worried residents, unaware of the origin of the fire, inundated area police and fire departments Tuesday with reports of fires.
The Baton Rouge Police Department received “numerous calls about possible fires in the Baton Rouge area” Tuesday night because of the smoke wafting over the city, Sgt. Don Stone, a spokesman for the department, said in a news release.
Also, Tuesday night, the Baton Rouge Fire Department reported that all of its stations were receiving “numerous calls from concerned citizens about the smoke,” said Derek Glover, a Fire Department spokesman.
Glover said the smoke was coming from the marsh fire and, “there is nothing that can be done here until the wind changes directions or we get some rain.”
The direction and severity of the smoke varied with the wind, and late Tuesday afternoon there were reports of heavy smoke in the Gonzales and St. Amant areas.
James LeBlanc, St. Amant fire chief, said firefighters couldn’t find any local source for the smoke, leading them to believe the smoke was coming from the marsh fire.
Smoke from the fire also moved into Livingston Parish on Tuesday afternoon, reaching Walker and Denham Springs, said Perry Rushing, a spokesman with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, it’s estimated that about 1,955 acres of the 2,300-acre area of marsh has burned so far.
The area that is burning is surrounded by water-filled canals and open water, so it’s unlikely the fire will escape to other areas.
Chris Piehler, administrator with DEQ’s Inspection Division, said air monitoring data showed particulate matter above normal levels at monitors from New Orleans to Baton Rouge on Tuesday.
Mark Olson, public information officer with the East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services, said that as of 4 p.m., Tuesday EMS had not received any emergency calls from people suffering health problems from the smoke.
With the fire continuing to burn, state agencies were working Tuesday to provide more information about the impact of the smoke.
Lisa Faust, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said the department received a handful of calls Tuesday about the smoke. As a result, DHH put together a “Smoke and Air Quality and Health” fact sheet, which is available at www.dhh.la.gov.
In general, the department is telling people with asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions to avoid being outside for long periods of time.
For information about air quality and for air quality forecasts, go to http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/tabid/2505/Default.aspx.
To sign up for air quality alerts, go to http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/enviroflash.