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Hundreds evacuated as wildfires rage in Florida Panhandle

Fire broke out Monday and expanded rapidly in dry conditions.

Wildfires raging in the Florida Panhandle have forced nearly 500 people to evacuate from their homes, authorities said.

One wildfire that broke out Monday afternoon in Santa Rosa County has been named the Five Mile Swamp fire as high winds and low humidity caused the blaze to expand 10 times in size, the Florida Forest Service said in a statement. The fire started as a prescribed burn but quickly grew out of control, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Forest Service said multiple structures have been lost in the 2,000-acre fire, and authorities are recommending residents south of Interstate 10 to evacuate. The agency did not make clear how many people have been evacuated from the area. So far, about 20% of the 2,000-acre fire has been contained, authorities said.

The evacuation order will remain in effect until noon Thursday and then will be reevaluated at that time, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a statement.

“This is an extremely dangerous and fast-moving wildfire situation that is evolving rapidly, so everyone in the affected area should follow directions from state and local officials,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Almost all of Florida has had less-than-usual rainfall this year. National Weather Service meteorologist Jack Cullen said the dryness helped fuel the fires on Wednesday. Cullen, who is based in Mobile, Alabama, said the wind is the real culprit.

“What made this (fire) today was the wind, to go along with the dry conditions and low humidity,” Cullen said.

Firefighters are also battling another 575-acre fire in Walton County. Authorities said approximately 500 people were evacuated from the area and multiple structures were lost in that fire.

There have been no reports of injuries or deaths.

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Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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