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Wildfires down 60 percent in La.

Fighting fire with fire and other public awareness programs by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry are reasons for an almost 60 percent drop in wildfires in the state over the past 10 years, according to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

LDAF reported this week that its firefighters fought 1,638 wildfires in 2008. Last year, LDAF firefighters handled 676 wildfires in Louisiana, according to a recent press release.

Weather and forest conditions vary, LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain said, but public awareness is an important factor. Outreach programs include information on responsible debris burning and prescribed burning for forest landowners. The prescribed burning program is held in conjunction with the LSU AgCenter and teaches landowners best practices on how to conduct prescribed burns safely on their property.

Strain also touted enforcement efforts that include 150 investigations that resulted in 25 arrests over the past five years. And those cases include arsons that amount for 5,240 acres of timberland that was torched.

Other aids in detecting the forest include aerial inspection of large areas, which also provides support for ground firefighting crews during a wildfire. And the use of geographic information systems and global positioning satellites helps in managing the firefighting efforts.

"The GPS and GIS assist us in plotting areas where forest are being set and are threatening people's lives and properties," Strain said.

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