Florida expands state of emergency to 3 counties affected by wildfires

The Florida Forest Service said Sunday that nearly 10,000 acres are currently burning in the Panhandle. Additional resources have been to help fight two major wildfires burning in Bay County, officials said.

The Bertha Swamp Road Fire, which is the largest of the two wildfires, has burned 8,000 acres and is only about 10% contained, officials said in a news.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency on Saturday to include two more counties impacted by the fires. The governor’s decision amends an executive order — which declared a state of emergency in Bay County — to include Calhoun and Gulf counties.

“Right now, the main focus is, of course, is getting the fire contained, but we are marshaling assets and we will provide whatever the folks here in northwest Florida (need),” DeSantis said Saturday.

The fire service said in a tweet that more than 12,000 acres have been burned by wildfires across the state. The service’s Chipola Forestry Center tweeted that high winds have caused “significant growth” to fires, and evacuations are underway for some residents.
Florida wildfire quickly grows to 1,400 acres as abandoned

The Bay County fire, which started Friday, is 30% contained, the forest service said in a news release.

Around 600 homes have been evacuated, authorities said. The forest service said two homes have been destroyed and 12 more damaged.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and a burn ban has been issued for Bay County, officials said. At a news conference Friday, Bay County Sheriff Tom Ford said the fire started when someone was burning trash in their backyard and the flames got out of hand.

Bay County Emergency Services Chief Brad Monroe said at Saturday’s news conference the size and force of the fire was “hard to describe.”

Authorities noted fuel in the form of dead trees on the ground and leftover debris from 2018’s Hurricane Michael, along with low humidity and strong winds, contributed to the fire’s intensity.

Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, “left 2.8 million acres of trees broken, uprooted,” state Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried told reporters Saturday.

“These added fuels and dense pockets of vegetation from Hurricane Michael increased the intensity of wildfires,” Fried said.

Fried also implored residents not to burn trash or yard waste in their backyards.

Florida Disaster and Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie confirmed multiple state agencies are working on the fire.

“The Florida National Guard is bringing in crews to activate up to four helicopters should we need that asset,” Guthrie added, saying two strike teams are on standby.

Residents evacuated Friday are not allowed back in their homes, Ford told reporters Saturday. Shelters are available and allow pets.

Bay County has about 175,000 permanent residents in its 748 square miles. Panama City, a major tourist destination, is its largest city.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo