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Marsh Mellows


  There was little consensus among New Orleanians last week as to whether the marsh fire in eastern New Orleans had in fact been completely snuffed out, despite a deluge from Tropical Storm Lee and repeated attempts to douse the flames via helicopter drops. Twitter (through #marshfire or #smokepocalypse hashtags) still spiked with reports of burning odors, presumably from the smoldering marsh.

  Attempts to let it burn itself out (or hopes the rain would put it out) followed "best practices," according to Mayor Mitch Landrieu. But early last week Landrieu confirmed three hot spots had been extinguished by Sept. 10, via two Louisiana National Guard-piloted Blackhawk helicopters dropping 137 buckets and carrying more than 60,000 gallons of water.

  Landrieu announced the New Orleans Fire Department and Mosquito Control would survey the area three times a day throughout the week. But a reconnaissance flight on Thursday, Sept. 15 identified the same three small hot spots, which NOFD had hoped to fight from nearby canals but couldn't. Landrieu requested helicopter support from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for additional water drops. Landrieu press secretary Ryan Berni said if more support is needed, it will be sent.

  Authorities believe lightning strikes on Aug. 24 ignited a fire that spread to an area of marsh grass and underbrush covering more than 1,500 acres. What followed were days of air quality alerts issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as changing winds brought stinging, burning smells across the metro area — and as far as Baton Rouge — until late Sunday, Sept. 11.

  "Particulate matter" from the smoke carried ash and soot particles, which are considered especially harmful to people with respiratory problems and allergies. Gov. Bobby Jindal authorized the Louisiana National Guard to drop more than 1 million gallons of water on the flames before Tropical Storm Lee's rain bands moved inland. — Woodward

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