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The primary objectives of the Forest Protection Division are the detection, suppression and prevention of wildfires in the forestlands of Louisiana. There are 18.9 million acres of land under fire protection by the agency. Louisiana’s wildfire occurrence is “high” by regional and national standards. Without the effort and dedication of Office of Forestry personnel, the loss from wildfire could be catastrophic.
For the ten year period, 2006-2015, records indicate an annual average of 1,676 wildfires that burned 17,849 acres of forestland each year in Louisiana. In addition to the destruction of valuable forestland and the impacts on the economy through the loss of this important natural resource, wildfires seriously threaten countless rural structures and equipment on a daily basis. Millions of dollars worth of property are severely threatened but damage is minimized by timely and effective wildfire suppression. The threat to loss of life and property is immeasurable.
The Louisiana Office of Forestry is the only state agency with statewide wildland fire-fighting capabilities. Fires are detected by aircraft or are reported by the public, and are then suppressed by trained forestry crews. Today, the state protection system involves approximately 106 wildland firefighters equipped with trucks, tractor-plows and two-way radios. These trained professional crews are employed year-round. Statistics show that the tractor-plow operator in the southern United States has the most hazardous wildland fire-fighting job in the nation.
Detection is handled by fixed wing aircraft. Agency personnel inspect and maintain all aircraft within strict FAA standards. Agency personnel maintain a statewide radio system of mobile, base, and hand-held equipment which provides constant and instant communications, not only in forest fire detection but in civil defense communications as needed.
In the middle 1950s, a fire-weather forecasting program was begun with the cooperation of the U.S. Weather Bureau. Daily weather reports are relayed to the districts so that fire crews can be alert to current fire dangers. Smoke management guidelines and forecasts are issued by the Protection Branch to protect air quality and aid with forest prescribed burning programs throughout the state.
The Forest Protection Branch regularly conducts training programs for the agency’s fire crews, stressing safe and effective firefighting techniques. The agency also has the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, whose crews may support and back up the Office of Forestry’s fire suppression crews during extreme fire conditions.
The specific objective of the branch is to keep the annual percent of burn at a level of no more than 0.25 of one percent (one-fourth acre for each 100 acres protected) in each parish in the intensively protected mixed pine areas of, primarily, north Louisiana parishes and to keep the annual burn at a level of no more than 0.50 of one percent (one half acre for each 100 acres protected) in flash fuel areas, primarily in southeast and southwest Louisiana. Overall, the aim is to hold the average size per fire to less than 13.2 acres. Records indicate that in 2015, the average size of Louisiana’s forest fires was 11.83 acres.
The Forest Protection Branch administers the Federal Excess Personal Property Program which provides fire suppression equipment at no cost to rural Louisiana fire departments. The Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant program provides federal cost-share funding to aid in the training and equipping of rural volunteer departments. The Office of Forestry administers the Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Program, which is designed to promote the safe and effective use of prescribed fire in the management of natural resources.
Fire danger is the probability of a fire to start, the rate of spread and intensity of its burn. Awareness of the following fire danger rating levels will help decrease wildfire ignitions.
LOW FIRE DANGER
Fires do not readily start.
Fires that do start spread slowly with low resistance to control.
MODERATE FIRE DANGER
Fires can start from most accidental causes, but the number of starts is generally low.
Fires burn at moderate intensities, heavy fuel concentrations will burn hot.
HIGH FIRE DANGER
Fires start easily from most causes.
Control of fires can become difficult if initial attack not initiated promptly, especially in heavy fuels.
Most fires controlled within first burning period.
VERY HIGH FIRE DANGER
Fires start readily and spread quickly.
Resistance to control is high, as is the potential for large fires.
Fire behavior is often erratic, “blow up” potential is high.
EXTREME FIRE DANGER
Severe fire conditions, potential for fire disaster is high.
Direct attack of fires is virtually impossible, fires often escape initial attack.
Fire behavior is erratic, “blow ups” may be expected.
Resistance to control is high, fires not usually controlled until burning subsides.
- Jackson, Mississippi NWS Forecast Office
- Lake Charles NWS Forecast Office
- New Orleans / Baton Rouge NWS Forecast Office
- Shreveport Orleans NWS Forecast Office
Even with the rain many parts of Louisiana have received, wildfires continue to threaten rural homeowners with up to six homes lost each year. Sadly in most cases the homeowner started the fire that consumed the home. Even though arson still leads in wildfire ignitions, it is debris burns that destroy homes.
When you need to burn around your home, please contact the local LDAF office and fire department for advice as to burning conditions and precautions for burning. Always remember Prevention is a Homes Best Defense.
Handling of Debris
- Clear vegetation at least 30 feet around your home and other structures, using weedeaters, lawnmowers, chainsaws and other mechanized equipment.
- Make sure that all machinery is equipped with proper spark arrestors. Fuel equipment in areas void of vegetation.
- Practice extra caution when fire danger is high.
- Rake all leaves or needles that are within 30 feet of a structure.
- Thin tree stands and brush to eliminate continuous vegetation which can promote wildfire spread.
- Burning – Burn only when fire danger is low. Contact local agencies regarding burn regulations. Practice extreme caution whenever burning.
- Chipping – Utilize wood chippers to eliminate tree branches and other vegetative debris. Remaining chips can be used to mulch gardens.
- Hauling – Haul vegetative debris to designated dump sites in your areas.
- Community Work Days – Organize a community cleanup day. Pool resources such as wood chippers and chainsaws to help those in your neighborhood without the necessary equipment to clean up around their homes.
Safe Debris Burning Tips
- Cover debris piles with a sheet of plastic. Remove plastic during or after a rain storm and burn the pile when the surrounding vegetation is wet. This will reduce the chance of fire spreading to surrounding vegetation.
- Make sure that piles are clear of vegetation at least ten feet around.
- Avoid building debris piles under overhanging tree limbs or close to homes and other structures.
- Have a water source and shovel located near pile in case fire spreads to surrounding vegetation.
- Never leave a debris pile unattended while it’s still burning.
- Keep piles small. Suggested size is 5 feet x 5 feet. If you have more debris to burn, you can always add to the burn pile later as it burns down.
- Make sure the pile is completely extinguished before you leave it. Drowned with water. Stir the ashes with a rake or shovel. Feel for heat with the back of your hand a few inches from the ashes. If the pile is still hot, continue to stir and drowned with water and repeat the process until you’re sure the fire is completely out.
- Before burning, contact local agencies to determine if burn regulations are in effect.
- Certified Prescribed Burn Program
– Prescribed Burn Plan
– Introduction to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems
– 2016 Prescribed Burning Contractors List
- Daily Fire Weather
- Smoke Management Program
- Louisiana Voluntary Smoke Management Guidelines
- Federal Excess Personal Property Program
- Forest Protection Tax [PDF]
- Louisiana Interagency Coordination Center (website)
- Volunteer Fire Assistance Program
- Wildland Urban Interface Program
- Louisiana Burn Ban Map
- VFA Desk Guide – USDA Forest Service (Website)
- National Incident Management System (NIMS) (Website)
- Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) program