Officials say it will take more than helicopters to extinguish marsh fire

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wwltv.com

Posted on August 31, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 31 at 10:22 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS- As a massive marsh fire continues to burn, officials believe their attack from the sky is making a difference.

But they say it will take more than the Air National Guard's helicopters to finally extinguish the stubborn blaze.

"We don't think we'll be able completely put the fire out," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, "But we do think it's having an impact on minimizing the smoke."

Nine National Guard choppers have dropped about 500,000 gallons of water over the last two days on two fires in a swampy wooded area of New Orleans East.

Officials said they've been able to knock out the smaller of the two, a 26-acre fire closer to Bayou Savage, which they believe was intentionally set earlier this week.

Now, they're focusing their efforts on a 2,300-acre blaze closer to the Oak Island subdivision that's been burning for nearly a week.

"We're trying to keep it contained, but we're also trying to focus on the smoke, so we can dampen it as much as it can and take the smoke down," said Brigadier Gen. Glenn Curtis of the Louisiana National Guard.

Clouds of smoke have blanketed parts of the metro area since the weekend, aggravating breathing problems for those with respiratory issues, and leading to several days of air quality alerts.

"We did see we had a increase in numbers at the emergency room with people having sensitive conditions who were feeling exposed to the smoke and having systems like asthma, allergies, and respiratory disease," said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, city of New Orleans health commissioner.

Firefighters said the blaze is completely inaccessible from the ground.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed our cameras just how dry and dense of an area they're working with.

"Very thick, dense, lush vegetation, almost like being in a rainforest," said Pon Dixon.

Landrieu took an aerial tour of the blaze Wednesday afternoon. He said about 60 percent of the fire zone appeared to have burned itself out. He said it will take the anticipated rain this weekend to finally put the blaze out.

"The entire metro area, all the way to Baton Rouge, continues to be affected," said Landrieu. "We continue to monitor it. We're going to stay in the fight as long as we have to and keep working."

Landrieu said the state is picking up the tab for the National Gaurd's aerial efforts, which cost about $7,000 an hour. The choppers stopped flying at sundown Wednesday but will be in the sky again early Thursday morning.

 

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