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Homes burn…

Homes were burned and residents evacuated as wildfires burned in the Florida Panhandle.Hundreds of structures south of I-10 are threatened in Santa Rosa County.Another fire has burned structures in Walton County.Like most of Florida, much of the Panhandle is either abnormally dry or in a drought.Firefighters continued to battle a raging wildfire in the Florida…

Homes burn…

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  • Homes were burned and residents evacuated as wildfires burned in the Florida Panhandle.
  • Hundreds of structures south of I-10 are threatened in Santa Rosa County.
  • Another fire has burned structures in Walton County.
  • Like most of Florida, much of the Panhandle is either abnormally dry or in a drought.

Firefighters continued to battle a raging wildfire in the Florida Panhandle overnight that has burned several buildings and forced people to flee their homes.

Some of the Florida Panhandle residents forced out by a wildfire were allowed to return home Thursday afternoon, but they were warned to remain vigilant as firefighters continue to battle the aggressive Five Mile Swamp Fire.

The Santa Rosa County fire was one of three large wildfires burning in northwest Florida Thursday. The other two are the 300-acre Hurst Hammock 2 Fire in Escambia County and the 575-acre Mussett Bayou Fire in Walton County.

The Five Mile Swamp Fire forced the closing of a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 10 through Santa Rosa County. The interstate remained closed Thursday afternoon. Traffic backed up for hours on U.S. Highway 90 and State Road 80, two of the detour routes.

The blaze, which had grown rapidly to more than 3 square miles, was 35% contained as of late Thursday night. On Wednesday, residents of at least 1,100 homes had been told to evacuate.

Video from the scene Thursday showed homes in smoldering ruins.

At least 17 houses and other buildings were destroyed or damaged, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said at a briefing Thursday afternoon.

That number is sure to be higher, Santa Rosa County Emergency Management Director Brad Baker said at the briefing. He added that officials have confirmed at least 13 homes were destroyed.

Those families were being sheltered at hotels because of fears of the new coronavirus being spread at regular shelters, Baker said.

Gulf Power said more than 70 utility poles had burned and power was out in much of the area.

(MORE: Thirsty Florida Could Be In For Its Biggest Soaking of 2020)

This screenshot from a video shows a helicopter battling a wildfire near Interstate 10 in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.

(Florida Forest Service via Twitter)

“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,” Fried said.

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She urged people in the area to pack a bag with necessary items, including important paperwork, so they could evacuate as quickly as possible if conditions arise.

Crews are in the fourth day of battling the blaze, which began Monday after a controlled burn on private property got out of control, the News Journal reported. Joe Zwierzchowski, a Florida Forest Service spokesman, said the private contractor had a permit for the burn.

In Walton County, the Mussett Bayou Wildfire was burning near Santa Rosa Beach. Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson told WKRG-TV that the fire was caused by a person violating a burn ban and an arrest was expected soon.

“It boils down to an illegal burning,” Adkinson said. “Not a meth lab explosion, not atomic, nothing like that, it’s just somebody burning when they shouldn’t have been burning.”

The blaze had consumed nearly a square mile and was 60% contained as of Thursday morning, the South Walton Fire District said.

About 500 homes have been evacuated. At least 33 homes have been destroyed and several other structures were damaged, Fire Chief Ryan Crawford said at a briefing Thursday morning.

In Escambia County, the Hurst Hammock 2 Fire has burned more than 300 acres. Strong winds out of the north caused the fire to burn through a woodland area toward the Perdido River and Perdido Bay, northescambia.com reported.

The fire was not threatening any homes Wednesday night and no evacuations had been ordered.

Fire danger increased throughout much of the state this week because of windy conditions and low relative humidity, according to a news release from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Florida Department of Transportation warned motorists of high winds Wednesday afternoon in the area of the fire.

Like most of Florida, much of the Panhandle is either “abnormally dry” or in “moderate drought” conditions, according to the latest drought monitor.

“Pensacola, Florida, usually a reliably wet part of the northern Gulf Coast in spring, has only picked up 43% of its average rain since March 1,” said weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman.

Pensacola has received 4.59 inches of rain since March, a deficit of about 6.2 inches below normal spring rainfall.

The Florida Forest Service has battled nearly 1,100 wildfires since January. Nearly all of those were caused by humans, according to the agriculture department.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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