Wildfires rage in Florida Panhandle, forcing evacuations

Wildfires rage in Florida Panhandle, forcing evacuations
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Wildfires burning in the Florida Panhandle's swampland this week have destroyed more than a dozen homes and forced at least 500 people to evacuate in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials say the three blazes in northwest Florida have been exacerbated by winds and dry weather conditions, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.

One fire in Santa Rosa County, which tore through 2,000 acres and shut down nine miles of Interstate 10, was just 20 percent contained when officials gave a 9 p.m. press conference Wednesday night.

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Nicknamed the Five Mile Swamp Fire, the blaze began as a prescribed burn on private property Monday, but it quickly went out of control.

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Two other wildfires are also burning in the panhandle.

The Hurst Hammock fire, in nearby Escambia County, had burned 60 acres as of Wednesday and was 40 percent contained, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Another blaze in Santa Rosa County burned an additional 70 acres and was 20 percent contained.

The National Weather Service warned that low humidity, gusty winds and ongoing drought conditions could promote the fires, causing the agency to issue a red flag warning on Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jack Cullen told the Tampa Bay Times that the region is five inches below its typical rainfall for the year but pointed toward wind for Wednesday’s blaze.

“Pensacola’s drought condition is abnormally dry,” he said. “What made this [fire] today was the wind, to go along with the dry conditions and low humidity.”