Louisiana’s governor asks the impossible: Please don’t barbecue on Labor Day

One look at Louisiana’s traditional barbecue practice can set off alarm bells in the heads of firefighters.

The French Louisianan practice of Cochon de lait (co-shaun-du-lay) translates literally to “suckling pig” and involves pit roasting a young pig. Images of the practice show a long row of logs and hot coals blazing with high flames surrounded with split hogs hung on racks.

Cochon de laits were originally cooked over fireplaces in early-American kitchens, but the most common method today is in an outdoor cooking shed, grill or open fire pit,” according to the state’s official travel authority. “A fire that is constantly maintained should cook a 50-pound pig in about five or six hours, giving you plenty of time to kick back and relax with family and friends. It’s a good bet you’ll find it at a variety of fairs, festivals and tailgates around the state.”

The very open flame barbecue practice, along with the state’s affinity with smoked meats, shows why Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards may have felt it was necessary to explicitly ask the state’s residents to not barbecue for Labor Day weekend — and the beginning of the football season this year — as numerous wildfires burn across the state.

“We know [Labor Day] typically involves a lot of cookouts and barbecues, especially with the return of football,” Edwards said during a press conference on Aug. 30. “I’m asking that people not engage in barbecuing and so forth outside where a fire can start.”

The request itself isn’t out of the ordinary. Louisiana has been under a statewide burn ban since August because of extreme heat, widespread severe drought, and ongoing wildfires in the southwestern portion of the state. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry also banned prescribed burns, and Edwards prohibited all agricultural burning with an executive order. However, what media found especially unusual about the governor’s request was that it coincided with the weekend that rings in the final days of summer barbecuing and the beginning of LSU football tailgating barbecuing.

“Let’s be patient and not create more work for firefighters in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “We need to prevent what is already a serious situation from becoming worse.”

The state’s residents may need to be very patient. This year’s burn ban has already far exceeded the length of the state’s previous statewide burn ban in 2015, which lasted only 10 days. On August 7 Louisiana Fire Marshal Daniel Wallis expanded the in-effect burn ban to include burning on both public and private property.

“This new burn ban order … prohibits ALL private burning, with no limitations,” the Office of Louisiana State Fire Marshal said. “The already extremely dry conditions statewide, and the concern over first responder safety in these dangerously high temperatures, have worsened as wildfires spread across Louisiana and significant rain relief remains elusive in weather forecasts.”

Time will tell whether Louisianans will obey the burn ban to stop further wildfire tragedies, or stick to tradition and risk igniting more fires.