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Bay County's largest wildfire still growing, more firefighters and equipment arrive to contain blaze

Valerie Crowder
Part of the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, which is Bay County's largest, burns residential property in the Bear Creek area on Sunday afternoon.

Update at 6:30 p.m. CST:

Firefighters work to contain three fires in Bay County without much progress throughout the day due to high winds and massive amounts of Hurricane Michael tree debris.

The Florida Forest Service has 138 personnel assigned to the three fires — which are under the command title "the Chipola Complex." Additional firefighters from local departments across the state are also helping. National guard helicopters are dropping buckets of water to help put out the blaze in areas that are too dangerous for ground firefighters to reach.

The county's three wildfires are the same size they were this morning or have since grown.

No deaths or injuries have been reported. And some areas are no longer under a mandatory evacuation order.

Officials say they can confirm two homes have been destroyed and at least a dozen more have been damaged. Those numbers haven't changed since the first wildfire broke out on Friday.

Bertha Swamp Road Fire

The county's largest fire — the Bertha Swamp Road Fire — was at 13,000 acres this evening, according to the Florida Forest Service. That fire "has taken quite a run this afternoon with the winds that we had," said Julie Allen, the service's public information officer. "We do have some extreme fire behavior on that incident. We'll be able to ascertain the increase in acreage at some point this evening."

A mandatory evacuation order for the Bear Creek area remains in effect, even though a change in wind direction has moved the fire away from some neighborhoods.

Evacuation Zones.jpeg
Bay County Emergency Services
The latest evacuation map for the Bertha Swamp Road Fire.

Adkins Road Fire

The Adkins Road Fire is burning across 875 acres, which is slightly larger than it was this morning. The fire is 40% contained. That fire has been burning since Friday.

A mandatory evacuation order has been lifted, said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford. All residents who live south of Highway 231 to U.S. Highway 98 between Transmitter Road and Star Avenue can return home safely, he said. "Don't let your guard down, but know that we are lifting those evacuations."

Ford explained that the fire's spread could change quickly and residents might need to evacuate again. "If you have your bags packed and important documents, keep those close by."

Update at 12 p.m. CST:

Three wildfires that started over the weekend are still threatening neighborhoods in Bay County.

An estimated 700-1,100 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. State and county officials say two homes are confirmed destroyed and a dozen homes have been damaged.

Officials say they've been guessing on those numbers because they're not able to access the affected areas to get an accurate count.

No injuries or deaths were reported on Monday morning.

Bertha Swamp Road Fire

The largest fire — the Bertha Swamp Road Fire — grew by about 3,000 acres overnight. It's now 12,000 acres, up from 9,000 acres on Sunday. Crews have contained 20% of the blaze, according to the Florida Forest Service. Last night, the fire was 10% contained.

Today is more humid and there's more cloud cover, which could help minimize the fire, said Joe Zwierzchowski, with the forest service.

The National Weather Service forecasts a 40% chance of rain for Panama City on Tuesday.

He says their primary concern is high winds, which are similar to Sunday's wind speeds. The fire had expanded by about 4,000 acres within 24 hours after Sunday morning.

Residents in the Bear Creek area — South of Scotts Ferry Road and east of Highway 231 — are under a mandatory evacuation order.

The Bertha Swamp Road Fire began in Gulf County on Friday and had spread into Calhoun and Bay Counties by Saturday. State wildfire officials say no homes in Gulf or Calhoun Counties are under a mandatory evacuation order.

Adkins Avenue Fire

The Adkins Avenue Fire started in a resident's backyard on Friday morning, triggering the county's first round of mandatory evacuations.

That fire shrunk by about 20 acres overnight. It's now 841 acres and 40% contained.

A mandatory evacuation order for residents remains in effect between Transmitter Road and Star Avenue and south of Highway 231 to Tyndall Pkwy.

Star Avenue Fire

The Star Avenue Fire began on Sunday morning. State and local officials are still investigating the cause. That fire has grown to 250 acres and is 45% contained.

On Sunday night, county emergency officials fully evacuated the Clifford Sims Nursing Home, which was dangerously close to the fire. About 90 residents and staff were taken to the Bay County Fairgrounds, where a pet-friendly shelter is set up.

The area between Transmitter Road and Star Avenue and south of Highway 231 to Tyndall Parkway remain under a mandatory evacuation order.

Valerie Crowder
Firefighters from Naples stop in Greensboro for gas and food before heading to Bay County to help put out wildfires on Sunday, March 6, 2022.

More firefighters and equipment have arrived in the county since yesterday, said Melanie Blanton, public information officer with the Florida Forest Service. "With more assets being put toward containing the fires, it is a better situation."

"We still have some severe fire behaviors due to the high winds, overload of downed timber from Hurricane Michael," she said. "And of course, no rain."