Wednesday also registered on the Air Quality Index (at level "orange," which sits below the unhealthy "red" and above the moderate "yellow"), continuing an alert streak that began Aug. 28. Those warnings were based on what the DEQ termed"particulate matter" in the smoke. So what was in that? And what exactly was burning?
The marsh in Bayou Sauvage is a mix of grass, groundcover and trees. When burned, it produces carbon dioxide and particulate matter, which DEQ air quality assessor Tim Bergeron describes as small particles of ash and soot that become airborne after they're combusted.
"Particulate matter is a lung irritant," he says. "People who have respiratory problems, elderly folks — they'll need to take the necessary precautions. You shouldn't have prolonged activity outside when air quality is in the unhealthy or sensitive range."
Monitors also looked for sulfur dioxide (present, but not alert-worthy) as well as nitrogen oxide and toxic hydrocarbons. DEQ air quality monitors registered high Air Quality Index levels as far as Port Allen and Baton Rouge.
City health commissioner Karen DeSalvo says emergency rooms saw a slight increase in respiratory complaints and concerns of smoke inhalation, though a statement from the mayor's office said the fires "pose little to no threat to citizens."
Former Mayor Ray Nagin discussed it on Twitter, his current medium of choice. On Tuesday he wrote, "Air quality disaster in N.O. First casualty was truth. BS, nothing can be done. During K we used helicopters. Fire boats? Come on leaders." He later responded "Finally!" to news that Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a state of emergency.
Landrieu met with Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff and other agencies Tuesday, and Jindal ordered the Louisiana National Guard helicopters to dump water over the site — though Landrieu noted the efforts barely made a dent. Using mapping data from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, officials estimated 65 percent (or 1,015 acres of the 1,552-acre site) burned. A smaller fire (24 acres) broke out 500 yards from Chef Menteur Highway, but Landrieu press secretary Ryan Berni told Gambit on Wednesday that the Bambi bucket drops contained it. — Alex Woodward