New Orleans Is Flooding a Swamp To Extinguish a Wildfire Producing Dense, Foul Smoke

Tristan Baurick – The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
Oct. 23—Firefighters hope flooding a New Orleans East swamp will finally put out a fire that has cast noxious-smelling smoke over the city and combined with fog to snarl traffic and may have contributed to a number of car accidents Monday morning.

The Sewerage & Water Board is pumping water from a drainage canal into the swamp where a fire has been burning on private land between Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge and the Michoud Canal for at least nine days.

The S&WB began flooding the swamp on Thursday evening, but the fire showed little sign of letting up over the weekend. The fire has dug into the boggy soil, where it’s difficult to extinguish. Pumping, which is taking place near Industrial Parkway, is expected to conclude Tuesday.

“The fire can’t spread anymore, but it’s still smoldering underground,” said Sheldon Catchot, an S&WB supervisor who was helping manage the flooding effort.

On Monday, the smoke mixed with dense fog to slow rush-hour traffic and temporarily close the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It also may have contributed to several vehicle accidents, including a chain-reaction crash that killed at least one person and injured many others on I-55 hear Hammond on Monday morning,

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“Smoke and fog — the two don’t mix well,” said Chris Mickal, a district chief with the New Orleans Fire Department. “The smoke makes the fog stay down low and heavy.”

Firefighters say they can’t access the fire to assess its size or put it out. The swamp is a roadless area with thick stands of trees and shallow ponds. The property’s lease holder hired a contractor to dig trenches aimed at bringing water closer to the fire.

“With the drought, all the ponds in there have dried up,” Catchot said. “Getting water back to the ponds will hopefully swell them up and spread to the source of the fire.”

If the flooding doesn’t extinguish the fire, residents may have to wait for rain, firefighters said. But the forecast isn’t promising relief. Clear skies and warm temperatures are expected to last beyond Halloween.

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“We don’t have rain or cold air coming, and it’s supposed to stay dry into next week,” Mickal said.

The fire’s bad odor and persistence are likely because it’s burned into the swamp’s dense, boggy soil. Known as peat, the soil is a traditional fuel source in many countries. It’s cut into blocks, dried, and burned like coal.

When wetland peat catches fire, it releases an odor that some people compare to fingernail polish or burning plastic.

If people smell smoke, it’s best to go indoors, Mickal said. Sufferers of asthma and other respiratory conditions may be especially susceptible to the smoke’s effects. Several New Orleans residents say the smoke has caused nausea and burned their lungs and eyes.

Peat fires can produce smoke laced with harmful chemicals, including mercury and volatile organic compounds, which can cause headaches, skin irritation and other health problems.

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The S&WB stressed that it is assisting with the fire but it is not responsible for putting it out.

“Sewerage and Water Board is available to help and has been in correspondence and collaboration with the parties responsible to assist with this issue in any way we can,” a spokesperson said.

A separate wetland fire has been burning in the Barataria Preserve, a national park site near Jean Lafitte. Park officials say that fire is not contributing to the bad-smelling smoke in the New Orleans area.

The Barataria fire is more than 50% contained, with about 147 acres affected. Fire crews from seven states, four federal agencies and Jefferson Parish continued to bolster the containment lines on Sunday, the park’s management said.

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Tristan Baurick – The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate Oct. 23—Firefighters hope flooding a New Orleans East swamp will finally put out a fire that has cast noxious-smelling smoke over the city and combined with fog to snarl traffic and may have contributed to a number of car accidents Monday morning. The Sewerage & […]

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