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, 2004-2013, records indicate an annual average of 1,956 wildfires that burned 20,989 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 public citizens, and are then suppressed by trained forestry crews. Today, the state protection system involves approximately 108 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 ten (10) 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 the U.S. Forest Service whose crews support and back up the Office of Forestry's fire suppression crews.
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 2013, the average size of Louisiana's forest fires was 10.73 acres.
The Forest Protection Branch administers the Federal Excess Personal Property Program which 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.