BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Emergency crews in the Florida Panhandle have been battling two massive wildfires throughout the weekend, and they say debris from a hurricane that hit the area nearly three years may have fueled the fire.
Almost three million acres of timber fell in Hurricane Michael, so officials said they aren’t surprised that a fire this large erupted. Officials said the timber is also contributing to how fast the fire has been spreading.
“As we’ve been saying for three years, over three years with Hurricane Michael debris on the ground, unfortunately, something like this was expected,” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said.
The Adkins Avenue fire has grown to 1,400 acres and is about 30 percent contained. According to officials, the fire has destroyed two structures and damaged another 12 homes Friday. No homes were damaged Saturday.
Crews have created fire lines to protect a veteran’s nursing home on the south side of the fire and homes on the north side.
“It’s a lot of timber. It’s $1.3 billion worth of timber that’s on the ground that takes time. And so for one we’ve been really able to create a lot of the fire lines across residential property, create buffers which have really been very helpful,” Fried said.
The Bertha Swamp Fire that originated in Gulf County has spread 8,000 acres and is roughly 10% contained.
“We know that that fear is real. And reliving those emotions from the first time around is certainly something that our hearts go out to all the individuals that have been displaced for potentially the second time,” Fried said.
“No homes damaged. No injuries to residents or responders. Big win for Bay County!” Bay County emergency officials tweeted early Sunday.
Both fires have caused at least 750 homes to be evacuated in Bay County, about 100 miles west of Tallahassee.
Representative Neal Dunn said that FEMA grants for fire management have already been approved.
“We gotta address all these trees that fell over in Hurricane Michael. And there are three million acres of trees on the ground. We’re cleaning them up, but nobody’s ever seen that much fuel on the ground before,” Dunn said.
Dunn said that the Panhandle has more timber on the ground than anywhere else in the country.
“Literally nobody’s ever seen this much wood on the ground in the history of the country. And it’s unburned, this didn’t burn down it fell down. So it became firewood and of course, it’s dried out over the course of three years,” Dunn said.
Fried said they are looking for more funding at the state and federal level to clean up debris from Hurricane Michael more quickly.
Hurricane Michael in 2018 was directly responsible for 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage in the U.S., and it left behind 72 million tons of destroyed trees that have provided fuel for the Bay County wildfires, according to the Florida Forest Service.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.