Since August 2011, a marsh fire in eastern New Orleans has left firefighting authorities — from the city and across the state — scratching their heads. Helicopters from the National Guard dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on the site, and Tropical Storm Lee dropped more than a dozen inches of rain.
Five months later, the 2,000-acre plot continues to smolder.
Officials said smoke from the marsh fire is partially to blame for last month's deadly 40-car pileup and a fatal accident in the days that followed. Now the New Orleans Fire Department is combating the fire, which largely is contained under a layer of topsoil unreachable through conventional firefighting measures such as hoses hooked up to fire hydrants. Fire Department public information officer Edwin Holmes Jr. said the Louisiana State Police used infrared imaging to locate the fires, which are being fought with a portable water pump that puts out 1,500 gallons a minute. Up to 1.5 million gallons of water are pumped into the area daily.
Fire Chief Charles Parent said in a statement that "this tedious and time-consuming effort has proven to be the safest and most effective way to approach this very stubborn marsh fire." Meanwhile, local firefighters have joined a multi-agency effort, including the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and the property's owner (attorney and developer John Cummings), to determine just how effective recent efforts are. — Alex Woodward