Firefighters evacuated 600 homes in Florida’s Panhandle

PANAMA CITY, FL – Residents of 600 homes in Florida Panhandle have been evacuated as a wildfire destroyed two homes and damaged 12 others in an area that has been recovering for the past three years after Hurricane Michael was destroyed, officials said Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands of acres (acres) of fallen trees from the 2018 hurricane, as well as low humidity and strong winds created the “perfect storm” for hazardous fires in Bay County, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis told a news conference near a church in Panama City.

“It’s no surprise,” DeSantis said.

More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from across Florida Penhandle worked overnight to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. According to the Florida Forest Service, as of Saturday morning, a 1,400-acre (567-hectare) fire on Edkins Avenue had been extinguished by 30 percent.

The agency has deployed more than a dozen tractor plow units, as well as several helicopters, and in some areas of Florida, Panhandle has imposed bans on burning, officials said in a press release.

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DeSantis praised firefighters for rescuing many homes overnight.

“It’s a really significant fire that’s developing fast,” DeSantis said.

“Michael” was the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and only the fourth in history when in October 2018 it swept through Mexico Beach and Air Force Base Tyndall. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about $ 25 billion has been damaged in the United States.

It also left behind 2.8 million acres (about 1.1 million acres) of shredded and uprooted trees in Florida’s Panhandle, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicki Fried told a news conference.

“Hurricane Michael has left an additional threat to our communities – forest fires,” Fried said.

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Florida Forest Service officials said there was no time limit for residents to be allowed to return to their homes. At a news conference, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis advised evacuated homeowners to contact their insurance companies as this would speed up the claims process if their homes are damaged or destroyed.

“Be patient if we ask you to evacuate your homes,” Patronis said.

Dry conditions in Florida pose an increased fire hazard: 143 active forest fires were burning across the state, including the Bertha Fire in a wetland in nearby Gulf County, the Florida Forest Service said.

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