Emergency responders continue to battle a raging wildfire in the Florida Panhandle. The fires, spurred by high winds and low humidity, have damaged or destroyed many buildings and forced hundreds of people to flee.
Fires Continue to Rage in Northwestern Florida
Fires tore through Santa Rosa and Walton counties, which are between Pensacola and Panama City Beach in the northwestern part of Florida.
The fire started from an “escaped prescribed burn by a private contractor on private land,” according to Nikki Fried, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
According to officials, the high winds and low humidity in the area contributed to the fire’s strength.
“Everything was done right, the permits were pulled, our division was out here even the morning of and even as the fire started,” said Fried. “Everything was exactly as planned and the weather shifted — it changed.”
The Five Mile Swamp Fire in Santa Rosa county was one of three large wildfires still burning in the Florida Panhandle. It has burned around 2,000 acres to the east of Avalon Beach since it began Monday. The state agriculture department said that it has destroyed “numerous structures.” This also includes at least 13 homes.
Families are sheltering at hotels because of the coronavirus fears at regular shelters.
Some evacuations orders have already been lifted. However, county officials still warn that residents should be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
Lack of Rain Means Increased Risk of Wildfires Spreading
“The threat is far from over,” Fried warned during a press conference. Currently, there is no rain in the forecast, and “conditions will continue to be increased for fire behavior.”
Erin Albury, director of Florida Forest Service, said, “But what we need is rain, and there’s not a lot of that in the forecast right now. So we just need some rain.”
The fire has been burning on either side of Interstate 10. They are asking people south of I-10 to evacuate.
Officials also closed parts of I-10 starting Wednesday. They closed nine miles of the road Thursday. They did this in part because thick smoke made it difficult for drivers to see.
The raging wildfires could also pose an additional threat to those gearing up for hurricane season. In Florida, the hurricane season starts on June 1st.
The outlook for hurricane season has worsened already. Major weather forecasting service AccuWeather increased their predictions of hurricanes this year.