Florida wildfires: Thousands of acres near Panama City set ablaze as flames spread

The largest blaze, the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, spread over the weekend and was 14,000 acres on Monday evening, down from 9,000 on Sunday, with just 10% of it contained , according to a statement of the Florida Forest Service.
“The fire continues to show extreme activity as steady winds push the fire through thick, dry and dead trees and vegetation left behind by Hurricane Michael,” the statement said.
The fire, which originated in Gulf County, has spread to neighboring Bay and Calhoun counties, just east of Panama City, a popular tourist destination, according to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Governor Ron DeSantis extended a state of emergency on Saturday to include all three counties.

“Right now the main focus is, of course, to contain the fire, but we are gathering resources and we will provide whatever the people here in Northwest Florida (need),” said DeSantis on Saturday.

There is no timeline as to when residents will be allowed to return home, according to a statement from the Florida Forest Service.

Another fire even closer to Panama City, the Adkins Avenue fire in Bay County, was 50% contained and all evacuation orders had been lifted on Monday, the FFS said. Two houses were destroyed and 12 others were damaged by the fire.

Hurricane damage in 2018 hampered firefighting.

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

“Michael’s blowdown wood is making it very difficult to fight wildfires in our area,” Bay County Emergency Services said. said in a press release. “Fires that would normally be contained grow rapidly because there is so much fuel on the ground.”

More materials are coming to fight the flames

Additional resources were brought to the area to fight the fires, DeSantis said, noting that some first responders had been injured.

“We have four National Guard air assets: two Black Hawks and two Chinooks. They’re working and they’re having a positive impact,” DeSantis said Sunday. Crews have dropped more than 103,000 gallons of water on the Adkins Avenue Fire since Friday, officials said.

“Firefighters and emergency personnel are working around the clock to assist with fire suppression efforts, including seven aircraft,” Bay County Emergency Services said Monday afternoon.

“In addition, a heavy bulldozer strike team is focused on building fire lines and defensible spaces around communities near Bear Creek,” the agency said.

The situation on the ground remains dynamic and change is needed very quickly, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said Sunday.

“Last night we had to initiate an evacuation in the Bear Creek area due to the fire moving close by. We had to initiate additional evacuations today due to a fire in the Tram Road area” , Ford said. said, adding that Crews are “still battling this as we speak.” The evacuation order remained in effect Monday evening.

Ford said the Bay County Jail “is not in immediate danger, but we have a very solid plan in place” and that buses will be “on standby if it (evacuation) becomes necessary.”

Another fire in the region, the Star Avenue Fire, was at 250 acres on Monday and 60% contained. A veterans’ retirement home in the area was evacuated because of it, FFS said, but all evacuations have been lifted.

No homes or other structures were damaged by the Star Avenue fire, according to the agency.

Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire and a burning ban has been issued for Bay County. There are currently 160 wildfires burning more than 18,500 acres across Florida, FFS said.

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Claudia Dominguez and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.

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