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In this image made from video taken May 6, 2020 by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, fire and smoke rise from trees alongside a road in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Wildfires raging in the Florida Panhandle have forced nearly 500 people to evacuate from their homes, authorities said. (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services via AP)
All it takes is a spark in the Panhandle to light the next Five Mile Swamp Fire. Image via AP.

Panhandle

Five Mile Swamp Fire continues to rage in Santa Rosa County

The fire is estimated at 2,000 acres and is 35% contained.

While fire crews remain locked in a pitched battle against the Five Mile Swamp Fire in Santa Rosa County, some residents are now being allowed to return home for the first time in days to survey the damage.

As is the case with Kelly and Ryan Kniss, who were ordered to evacuate and leave behind many of their possessions.

The couple was able to evacuate safely with their children, pets, and several documents. But unlike some residents, who were left to wonder about the devastation, the pair were able to briefly monitor the blaze from afar.

Kelly Kniss and her family – who were evacuated to a hotel – watched from a home security camera as firefighters battled the blaze surrounding their property until the camera finally went dark.

To their relief, the camera stream returned later on Friday, offering hope that their home was still standing.

Yet while their home was found spared from the 2,200-acre blaze that had destroyed 17 buildings and homes since Monday, Kniss said that not everyone was as fortunate.

“This is such a tragic thing going on,” Kniss said. “We did lose an outbuilding, for sure. But there are other people who have lost their homes. It’s a terrible terrible tragedy, that’s what it is.”

Despite residents of Santa Rosa County being welcomed to return to their homes, authorities in the same breath are urging them to remain prepared should the fire shift direction.

Authorities have also reopened a portion of Interstate 10 near Pensacola that was originally deemed unsafe due to the blaze. That too, however, remains subject to change should the fire’s direction shift.  

Overnight, firefighters from across the state worked to hold the fire and monitor the existing containment lines even as wind gusts reached upward of 20 mph, driving embers across Interstate 10.

The blaze, which started as an escaped prescribed burn from private land, has been fueled by high winds and extremely low humidity. Coupled with its size and vastness, the over 2,000-acre fire has drawn multiple fire departments to respond to the area.

Further west on I-10, the Florida Forest Service is battling another fire in Walton County. Coined the Mussett Bayou Fire, authorities estimate it at 575 acres in size say it is  roughly 70% contained.

In response, fire crews have deployed 15 tractor plows, 2 fire engines and 2 additional dozer strike teams.

About 500 residents had been evacuated from the area since the start of the blaze. The evacuation order has since been lifted and the Walton County Sheriff Office has begun escorting homeowners who choose to return home.

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

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The Associated Press contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Written By

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capital for Florida Politics. After a stint with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. Throw him a line at jason@floridapolitics.com or on Twitter at @JasonDelgadoFL.

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