The Allanton Road Fire, a 668-acre blaze in Bay County, was likely caused by man.
“It’s under investigation but there was no lightning strike in the area,” said Florida Forestry Director Jim Karels. “It was most likely human causes. ”
But officials also say the blaze was about 60 to 70 percent as of mid-day Monday. State officials say the fire started Saturday but then only threatened about five acres of land. The large blaze burns 10 miles east of Panama City and 2.5 miles south of Highway 22.
The blaze has grown substantially, from about 500 acres Sunday evening and about 5 acres on Saturday. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the expansive fire has fed off debris leftover from Hurricane Michael.
“This could have been contained on maybe 10 acres as a fire,” Fried said. “Because of all the fuel on the ground and the timber from Michael, that is what has made this a huge 600-plus acre fire and is causing this immediate attention.”
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesperson Franco Ripple reported a similar situation this morning.
“What’s keeping our teams from suppressing it further is the literal tons of fallen trees fromHurricane Michael,” Ripple said.
The Florida Forest Service Chipola Division reported Sunday afternoon the fire was then 40 percent contained. As of 2 p.m. Sunday, the wildfire had grown to 500 acres and remained completely un-contained.
About 20 homes remain evacuated and still under threat, Fried said. All were on the southern side of the fire. Fried’s office on Sunday reported that 35 structures had been threatened in some way
As of noon on Monday, about 40 Forestry Service firefighters were fighting the fire. About that many had been dispatched by Bay County as well. Some 20 bulldozers, a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopters helped efforts to contain the Bay County blaze.
“While our brave Forest Service firefighters are working to contain this massive wildfire, it remains an extremely dangerous threat,” Fried said.
“All residents in Bay County and the affected areas should pay close attention and heed warnings from emergency personnel. This wildfire is a tragic reminder of the importance of disaster relief and clearing the 72 million tons of downed trees left in Hurricane Michael’s wake.”
Weather today has helped somewhat. About a tenth of an inch of rain has fallen on the fire, Karels said.
The fire threatens Bay County, an area already struck by disaster a few months ago. Hurricane Michael delivered the greatest damage in that community. State officials say downed trees from that storm now feed the growing wildfire.
Fried said the fire shows the need to expedite debris cleanup from Hurricane Michael. Her office requested $39 million from the state, and she spent much of last week in Washington lobbying for federal dollars.
“We need to get these areas cleaned up as fast as possible,” she said.
Karels said even a typical dry season could lean to a number of fires fed by downed trees.
“Even a normal fire season may be catastrophic,” he said.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City native heavily involved in Michael response, also urged caution to residents. He also offered department responses to Fried and Forestry.
“Please use caution and listen to all guidance provided by authorities!” Patronis urged.
Forestry officials say this fire could burn for several days, or even weeks, after it’s contained.
Fried stressed that while lightning strikes and other natural causes will lead to more fires, it’s important people don’t exacerbate the problem. She said backyard fires, poorly managed controlled burns and the tossing of lit cigarettes our of car windows all present fire hazards.