Louisiana outdoors hit hard by Tiger Island; other smaller fires


Wildfire in nature can be devastating to the land and the animals that live there. Louisiana found that out the hard way recently. On August 22, 2023,  a vast area of pine plantations north of Lake Charles became engulfed when a huge fire was reported in the area of the Tiger Island Hunting Club just north of Highway 110 between Singer and Merryville. The fire has been named the Tiger Island Fire and left more than 33,000 acres of fleeing wildlife, residential evacuations, smoldering logs and scorched black trees in its wake.

Kori Buxton, wildlife biologist with LDWF, has never seen anything like this in Louisiana. As for wildlife, Buxton said the smaller animals may have suffered by not being able to escape the path of the fire. However, large animals like deer should have been able to escape the approaching fire.

There have been no reports of wounded or killed whitetail deer as related to the fire, but many areas are unreachable at this point.

Susan Heisey, Public Information Officer for the Southern Area Red Team, is part of a multi-agency response from federal agencies that assisted in containment of the Tiger Island Fire. The fire has burned at least 33,000 acres and was only 50% contained as of Sept. 1. The fire task force consists of teams from 24 different states. This includes firefighter personnel, heavy equipment, paramedics, air support and other supporting personnel. The personnel continue to work through severe drought and incredibly hot conditions in a heroic effort to protect the surrounding homes and communities.

Fire ruled as arson

Tragically, the Tiger Island fire has been ruled as arson. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office have offered a cash reward of as much as $2,000 for information on who set the fire.

The pine plantation is home to several hunting clubs. The Camp Branch Hunting Club covers 3,000 acres, has about 30 members and was in the direct path of the northward raging Tiger Island Fire. The president David Hickman, along with friends and family of club members, live adjacent to the lease and were quickly looking at an out-of-control fire headed straight for them.

(Photo courtesy David Hickman)

They joined others in the area and quickly gathered every tractor, disk, plow, and any heavy equipment they could find and planned to protect their homes. As a result of their around-the-clock efforts, many homes were saved and no lives were lost, but the entirety of the lease has succumbed to the relentless fire. One club stand burned to ash, while others somehow managed not to burn even though the entire forest around them is now black scorched earth.

Tracks in the ash

In the recent days, club members that have examined the lease are reporting fresh deer tracks in the ash. The resilience of white-tailed deer is incredible.

This terrifying story is echoed in the deer hunting clubs and small rural farms nearby. Reports are coming out of clubs and camps completely burned, box stands destroyed, and areas of habitat scorched as far as the eye can see. Mother Nature will clear the scars of the land with rain showers in the fall, winter, and spring. New growth will follow to support all types of wildlife; however, it remains to be seen how the timber companies and landowners will react to the loss of the product they market. The only option for this incredibly large area is to remove the dead trees and replant. It will take time to learn just how much the habitat and the wildlife were impacted inside the fire area.

The forest floor

Cecilia Richmond, private land biologist with the LDWF, noted the dominant tree in the area is the longleaf pine and although it is fire tolerant, it is not resistant to a full canopy fire. She explained how important properly managed controlled burns are every few years to reduce the amount of fire fuel on the forest floor. Various state agencies including the LSU Agricultural Center provide classes on how to conduct prescribed burns in the safest way possible.

Richmond expects the undergrowth will recover very quickly with fall rains; however, the trees that do not recover will leave a unique situation.

Several other smaller fires have also been reported. More than a half-dozen homes burned in a raging wildfire in southwest Sabine Parish on Aug. 25, including a fire that ravaged neighborhoods on the shore of Toledo Bend. At one point, residents in Pirates Cove and nearby Captain Kidd, Jolly Roger and Billy Bones areas were also evacuated. That fire has been contained.

About Christopher Harp 2 Articles
Chris Harp served in the United States Marine Corps as a Criminal Investigator, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office as a Criminal Investigator, and is a retired federal Special Agent. Chris was raised in Zachary and is an avid outdoorsman that spends time hunting and fishing.

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