Top 10 stories of 2023: Wildfires rage in SW La.

Published 11:56 am Monday, January 1, 2024

By Emily Burleigh

In late August and into September, Southwest Louisiana found itself grappling with an unprecedented wildfire — the Tiger Island Fire. The fire burned almost 32,000 acres in Beauregard and Vernon parishes.

The statewide burn ban that was instituted in early August was a prelude to the wildfire. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Aug. 14 due to the extreme heat that fell over the state this summer.

Red Flag Warnings were issued in Southwest Louisiana through the later half of the year due to extreme drought conditions, gusty winds, low humidity, and dry vegetation, and residents were told not to be warned of the heightened risk of accidental fires.

Before the Tiger Island Fire began burning, there were over 400 wildfires that caught flame throughout the state.

Late on the night of Aug. 22, a wildfire began between Merryville and Singer that quickly escalated and spread on both sides of La. 110. The flames, fueled by drought-induced conditions, reached staggering heights of up to 300 feet, making containment efforts challenging. The smoke blanketed areas as far as Jennings and Hathaway.

The fire continued to grow over the next week. On Aug. 23, Edwards and the Louisiana National Guard activated the State Emergency Operations Center.

The next day, the wildfire affected 16,000 acres as The Louisiana Forestry Service provided additional aircrafts for water drops, and FEMA approved the state’s request for a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) to aid financial support.

On Aug. 25, Edwards visited the area to survey the damage and the situation continued to worsen as shifting winds and excess dry vegetation led to increased fire aggression.

By that afternoon, mandatory evacuations remained in Merryville, and additional orders were issued for the Toledo Bend area, Bancroft, and unincorporated areas of Beauregard Parish. The Louisiana State Police closed major roads, including La. 27 from La. 110 to Ball Road and La. 110 from La. 27 to U.S. 190, to ensure public safety.

Over 20 homes and structures were lost, but no fatalities were reported.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) confirmed on September 5 that the Tiger Island Fire was caused by arson, stating that there was “evidence that indicated the fire was started intentionally in a secluded location on forested property.”

Fires also simultaneously took place in Vernon and Rapides parishes. Three of the major fires in this area were: the La. 113 Fire, the Lions Camp Road Fire and the Elizabeth Fire.

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