UPDATE: All evacuations have been lifted. Two days after this story was originally posted, Jamie Norris, interim director of Calhoun County Emergency Management, informed Florida Politics that no evacuations took place in Calhoun County, despite reports from the Florida Forest Service. Check out our most recent reporting on the Panhandle wildfires and evacuations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced some areas of Calhoun County are being evacuated because of three wildfires in Florida’s Panhandle.
Since the fires began six days ago, the flames are now covering almost 30,000 acres, mostly along the path that Hurricane Michael took in the area in 2018. A state of emergency has been declared in Bay, Calhoun and Gulf counties.
At a Tuesday news conference, DeSantis said emergency services have been able to keep the wildfires from destroying all but two homes so far, but that conditions the past few days have allowed the fire to continue to grow.
DeSantis warned motorists that smoke from the fire and fog may limit visibility on roads in the Panhandle Tuesday night. He also asked Calhoun County residents to listen for local evacuation orders and follow the direction of local emergency personnel and leaders.
“Nobody wants to tell someone to leave their home. It’s a major inconvenience. It’s not good for people generally, we understand that. But if they’re doing that, that’s because they fear a risk of injury, property damage or death for an individual. So please heed that call,” DeSantis said.
He also announced that the Department of Economic Opportunity will be working with local community action agencies to provide $6.1 million to families to help get them back on their feet through community service block grants and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs. Individuals who were displaced or whose homes were damaged by the fires will be able to apply for funding to help with items such as food, temporary housing, daycare costs, transportation assistance and utility repair costs.
The Department of Children and Families is also launching a family resource support center at the Bay County Fairgrounds. The center will help coordinate support for displaced families, and house staff that will connect families to available local and state resources.
“This whole area has been through a lot in the past three years starting with Hurricane Michael. We need to make sure that they are able to take care of themselves as they take care of others,” DeSantis said. “The staff will be on the ground to help for as long as they are needed.”
The state is also activating the Business Damage Assessment Survey, which is used to assess the impact of the wildfires on businesses in the area. Depending on the responses, the state will be able to determine if the area’s businesses qualify for additional resources at the state or federal levels. Businesses can complete the survey online.
Brad Monroe, chief of emergency services for Bay County, said during the press conference it is important that people in the three counties follow no-burn orders that are in effect, as they can spark new fires in the area. He also said they are ready to help Calhoun County as it prepares to see the fire spread more in its area.
“Our hearts are with our neighbors in Calhoun County, and we stand ready to help them in this terrible time that they’re facing. We’re ready to help,” Monroe said.