Hundreds evacuated as wildfires rage in Florida Panhandle
Firefighters in the Florida Panhandle battled wildfires through the night that have forced hundreds of people to evacuate from their homes, authorities said.
A more than 575-acre fire in Walton County prompted about 500 people to evacuate. Authorities there said multiple structures were lost in the fire, which was 65% contained Thursday morning.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said during a late-night news conference that those who were asked to leave their home but had no place to go were sent to South Walton High School.
Another wildfire broke out Monday afternoon in neighboring Santa Rosa County as high winds and low humidity caused the blaze to expand 10 times in size, the Florida Forest Service said in a statement. The fire started as a prescribed burn but quickly grew out of control, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
The Forest Service said multiple structures have been lost in the 2,000-acre fire in the Santa Rosa County and authorities are recommending residents south of Interstate 10 to evacuate. The agency did not make clear how many people have been evacuated from the area. So far, about 20% of the fire has been contained, authorities said.
The evacuation order will remain in effect until noon Thursday and then will be reevaluated at that time, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a statement.
"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," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Almost all of Florida has had less-than-usual rainfall this year. National Weather Service meteorologist Jack Cullen told The Times the dryness helped fuel the fires Wednesday. Cullen, who is based in Mobile, Alabama, said the wind is the real culprit.
"What made this (fire) today was the wind, to go along with the dry conditions and low humidity," Cullen said of the fire near Pensacola.
There have been no reports of injuries or deaths.