Home WORLD NEWS Wildfires in Florida Force Hundreds to Evacuate: ‘All You Could See Is Smoke’

Wildfires in Florida Force Hundreds to Evacuate: ‘All You Could See Is Smoke’

by biasharadigest

Hundreds of people were told to evacuate their homes on Thursday as wildfires swept through several counties in the Florida Panhandle, the authorities said.

The largest wildfire stretched across 2,000 acres in Santa Rosa County, in the northwestern part of the state, the authorities said. The fire broke out on Monday afternoon, grew as it was fanned by high winds and low humidity, and by Thursday morning it was 35 percent contained, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a statement.

Winds of more than 20 miles per hour picked up embers and carried them across Interstate 10, which runs east-west through Florida, the department said. Portions of the highway were shut down.

As of early Thursday, about 1,100 people had evacuated their homes in Santa Rosa County. “That is going to continue through at least today,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, a forest service spokesman.

Dozens of homes and multiple structures have been lost to the flames, he said, and the county has opened emergency shelters.

Michael Dunlavy, his wife, Haley, and their five sons could see the smoke and flames from five fires several miles from their house in Milton, a city in Santa Rosa County, on Wednesday. Around noon, they received the order to evacuate. “First we went outside and looked around,” he said. “It really did not seem like it could reach us, but it was moving pretty fast.”

Mr. Dunlavy, 32, and his wife packed up the boys’ clothes and belongings — including a Mr. Potato Head toy and PlayStation games — in the trailer he uses to haul tools for his landscaping business, and headed out. Smoke shrouded the sky. They settled in a Hampton Inn and Suites in Navarre, Fla.

“There are so many going on right now,” he said of the fires, adding that he could see some near Pensacola. “All you could see is smoke.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Twitter that he was headed to the county on Thursday, and that he had requested federal assistance.

Firefighters were also battling a 575-acre wildfire in Walton County, where about 500 residents were evacuated and Highway 98, another east-west artery, was sealed off, the department said.

In Walton, 33 homes were destroyed and seven were damaged as of Wednesday night, Mr. Zwierzchowski said.

“This is an extremely dangerous and fast-moving wildfire situation that is evolving rapidly, so everyone in the affected area should follow directions from state and local officials,” the Florida agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried, whose department includes the state forest service, said in a statement.

The cause of the fire was a prescribed burn by a private contractor on Monday, and the flames spread in conditions of high winds and low humidity, Ms. Fried said in a news conference Thursday. Officials said that they were concerned about the risk of coronavirus transmission by housing large groups of people at shelters, so many families were placed in hotels.

A 335-acre fire was raging in Escambia County, Mr. Zwierzchowski said.

South Florida and some of Central Florida were under a fire weather watch on Thursday. The agriculture department said that since January, the forest service had battled nearly 1,100 wildfires that have churned through more than 18,100 acres across the state, nearly all of them caused by humans.

Erin Albury, the director of the forest service, urged the public to avoid burning yard debris, a leading cause of wildfires in the state. “We are in the peak of our year-round fire activity, and these weather conditions will only add to the existing fire danger,” he said in a statement.

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