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Hundreds of residents evacuated near Panama City as fire spreads

AdkinsRdFire Bay County.jpeg
Bay County Emergency Services
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The Florida Forest Service works to help put out the growing Adkins Avenue Fire in Bay County on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Updated at 9 a.m. CST

Firefighters are working to put out a growing 1400-acre fire in Bay County.

Florida Forest Service crews say the Adkins Avenue Fire is now 30% contained. The state forest service has dispatched 70 firefighters, who are working to put out the blaze with bulldozers, tractors, fire engines and other heavy equipment.

An evacuation order has not been lifted, and residents who've been evacuated may not return home. "The last thing we want to do is open a neighborhood back up and have the wind shift and be back in this same situation," said Sheriff Tommy Ford during a press conference on Friday at 5 p.m. local time on Friday. "I promise we'll get these areas opened back up as soon as possible."

County emergency officials say at least two homes have been destroyed and more than a dozen others have been damaged in the fire, which has been spreading since Friday morning. "It was a result of a fire that was burning behind someone's house that got out of control," Ford said.

More than 200 firefighters from across the Panhandle are working to put out the blaze, which broke out near Adkins Avenue on Friday morning, Bay County Emergency Services Chief Brad Monroe said during Friday's press conference.

"The fire has been meandering all over the place because of the change in winds," Monroe said, describing it as "massive." "Help is on the way."

Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in the county.

A burn ban remains in effect for the entire county.

The area from Transmitter Road to Star Avenue between Highway 231 and Tyndall Parkway is under mandatory evacuation.

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Panama City Government
Adkins Avenue Fire Mandatory Evacuation Map

An emergency shelter is located at Hiland Park Baptist Church, at 2611 Highway 231. The shelter will remain open throughout the night.

The Florida Department of Health in Bay County warns residents to protect themselves against wildfire smoke, which can cause headaches, scratchy throat, coughing, eye and nose irritation. It can also worsen asthma and other heart and respiratory conditions.

The department advises residents stay indoors and run their air conditioning units. "Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside," the department advised in a press release on Saturday. "For best results, run the air conditioning with recirculated air. If you do not have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek alternative shelter with family or friends."

The department also advises residents not to smoke and to avoid prolonged outdoor activities.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.