Smoke detected around Baton Rouge on Tuesday was coming from a marsh fire burning in the New Orleans area, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The agency confirmed the origin of the smoke that rolled into Baton Rouge throughout the afternoon and into the evening during a flyover of the area, according to an agency news release.
Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered the National Guard on Tuesday to help New Orleans with aerial firefighting in the Bayou Sauvage area, which is where the fire is located.
By sunset Tuesday, four 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 Guard spokesman.
The Guard planned to send five additional helicopters into the area Wednesday to help fight the fire, Ricou said.
Despite the firefighting efforts, Department of Agriculture and Forestry officials said earlier Tuesday that the amount of smoke at ground level was expected to increase at night and, according to local emergency agencies, it did.
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.
“Even though the Fire Department is working several house and building fires in the metro area,” Stone said just before 8 p.m., “the main bulk of the smoke is coming from south of New Orleans.”
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 the flight information combined with air monitoring data, shows particulate matter above normal levels at monitors from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
Particulate matter is a product of fire and consists of very small particles in the air that can cause health problems.
On Tuesday, two air monitors in the Baton Rouge area were picking up higher than normal particulate matter, according to a DEQ press release.
If particulate levels in Baton Rouge reach a certain level, air quality alerts will be issued. So far, those levels have not been reached, according to the DEQ news release.
However, the air quality levels in the Baton Rouge area reached a level Tuesday afternoon that could have affected unusually sensitive people if they were outside for a long period of time, according to DEQ.
Mark Olson, public information officer with the East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services, said that as of 4 p.m., 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.
“We know that many people are struggling with the smoke from the marsh fire and encourage everyone to take the important precautions necessary to protect themselves and their families,” said Dr. Takeisha Davis, assistant state health officer, in a press release from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“That means limiting outdoor exposure, particularly if you have a history of breathing or upper respiratory problems, making sure you aren’t pulling outside air into your home and car, and seeking care immediately if you experience breathing or other health problems,” Davis said.
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.