More than $500,000 has been approved for volunteer fire departments in counties facing increased wildfire threats from millions of tons of timber and other debris that remains scattered across the Panhandle, nine months after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the region.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced Friday that the Florida Forest Service had already paid out more than $87,000 in grants, with the latest awards going to 35 applicants.
The announcement came a day after Fried visited Bay County and met with residents who were affected by the hurricane, which weather officials earlier this year upgraded to a Category 5 storm.
“I am grateful for the response from local fire departments in the Panhandle as we work together to protect residents recovering from this disaster, as well as their homes and communities,” Fried said in the release.
Last month, the forest service announced full reimbursement is available for counties impacted by the October hurricane — Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Wakulla and Washington Counties, according to a press release issued by Fried’s office.
Fire departments can spend the money on wildland and structural personal protective gear, communications equipment, water handling equipment and training.
“This program is one way we can help local fire departments be better equipped and prepared to help respond to the wildfire threat left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael,” Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service, said in the release.