Panhandle wildfires grow to more than 34K acres
Image via AP.

Bay County wildfire
The wildfires’ growth comes from rapid expansion of the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, which has nearly tripled in size in two days.

The Florida Forest Service (FFS) announced Wednesday morning that the three Panhandle wildfires now cover a total of more than 34,000 acres.

Extreme fire behavior continued through the evening Tuesday, increasing the fire area by almost 5,000 acres from Tuesday morning. The state of emergency is still in effect in Bay, Calhoun and Gulf counties.

The fires’ growth comes from a rapid expansion of the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, which now covers 33,047 acres. It has almost tripled in size from two days ago. The two other fires, the Adkins Avenue Fire and Star Ave Fire, cover a little more than 1,000 acres combined and both are 80% contained by firefighters and first responders.

On Tuesday, emergency management officials conducted evacuations in the Kinard community as the Bertha Swamp Road Fire moved further into Calhoun County. Residents can receive updates from local public safety officials and the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency at this website.

In its Wednesday update, the FFS said light, steady rain is expected today, which hopefully will reduce the heat and intensity of the Bertha Swamp Road Fire. The fire has spread along the path that Hurricane Michael took in 2018, where downed flammable forest debris is thicker because of the hurricane’s winds.

“This will provide improved access for wildland firefighters, allowing them to establish and improve containment lines around the fast-moving wildfire,” the statement read.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday evening that the state government is mobilizing resources to help those impacted by the fires recover.

He announced 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 also is 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 also is activating the Business Damage Assessment Survey, used to evaluate 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.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


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