Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Assesses Challenges of 2023 Ahead of 5th Term
Just two days after his official re-election, Commissioner Mike Strain gives his assessment of the challenges faced in 2023, primarily wildfires.
The Louisiana open primary election, also known as a “jungle primary,” on Saturday [October 14], made it official - Mike Strain will serve a fifth term as Louisiana’s Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner. His reelection was already a foregone conclusion since he ran unopposed. Strain delivered an assessment, of sorts, on the challenges of 2023, while speaking before the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday [October 16].
The 64-year-old Republican veterinarian described the perfect storm of events which ultimately led to the burning of 60,000 acres from more than 600 fires this summer. Strain described the conditions on the ground as the driest seen in Louisiana in a generation. Typically, says Strain, 60-plus percent of all tropical storms and hurricanes that get in the Gulf of Mexico ‘touch,’ as he put it, Louisiana. This year: nothing.
“And then if you took what happened with [Hurricanes] Laura, Delta, and Ida, 1.1 million acres of timber on the ground, trees on the ground. That’s a lot of fuel on the ground,” Strain recalled, “then we had it where we didn’t have any rain. But we had the winds. So, the drought conditions, the amount of fuel on the ground, and it was a spark ready to happen.”
Yet, Strain says these wildfires are not completely unprecedented. He points to 1924, 99 years ago, when five million acres, or 17 percent of the land mass of Louisiana, burned. Then in 1942, 1.2 million acres burned. “Now, that was before we had organized firefighting which began after the war, that’d be World War II,” started Strain, “and so, if you look at this, a total is probably going to end up this year around 60,000 acres, so a little over one, one-point-two percent of what it could have been.”
The Agriculture commissioner praised GOHSEP during his remarks at the Press Club. GOHSEP refers to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness –for all the cooperation and coordination essential to fight the hundreds of wildfires, most notably from mid-August and into September of 2023.
Strain described how 10,000 structures were at risk from the hundreds of wildfires. “The two biggest ones that took most of our assets, were arson. And so, what is at risk, you know, the 10,000 structures, in all of the fires, we lost ten homes. It’s terrible. It’s regrettable, right. But, again, we stopped it.”
At the height of the fires, collectively, the size of the firefighting crew surged from 150 personnel – to roughly 1,200 firefighters. That included hundreds of National Guard troops who came from neighboring and regional states. They fought along 50-miles of fire lines.
And containment became the biggest challenge when the winds whipped up the embers. “What happened with those huge fires, the wind would blow up and, in the center, you’d get a downdraft, hear about a downdraft, and would blow the embers out,” recalled Strain, “and then some of those big fires would get so hot that literally, you know, five, eight, ten miles away it was very common to get more fire, small fires we’d put out. But we found some embers 20 miles away still burning.”
Strain added that investigators have made six arrests on arson charges, with more pending.