Florida Governor Ron DeSantis extended the state of emergency on Saturday to include two more wildfire-affected counties in northwest Florida.
The governor’s decision changes an executive order that declared a state of emergency in Bay County to include Calhoun and Gulf counties.
The Florida Forest Service said in a tweet over 12,000 acres were burned across the state. Florida Forest Service Chipola Forestry Center tweeted high winds have caused a “significant growth” in fires and evacuations are underway for some residents.
Earlier Saturday, DeSantis told a news conference that crews were working to contain the Bay County Wildfire, which had already consumed at least 1,400 acres in the Florida Panhandle.
“Right now the primary focus is, of course, to contain the fire, but we’re gathering assets and we’ll provide whatever people here in Northwest Florida [need]“, said DeSantis.
The fire, which started on Friday, is 30% contained, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) said in a news release.
About 600 homes were evacuated, authorities said. The FFS said two houses were destroyed and 12 others damaged.
The FFS added that the cause of the fire is being investigated and a burning ban has been issued for Bay County.
At a news conference Friday, Bay County Sheriff Tom Ford said the fire started when someone was burning trash in his yard and the flames got out of control.
Bay County Emergency Services Chief Brad Monroe said at Saturday’s press conference that the size and strength of the fire was “difficult to describe”, and on Friday the fire “s was produced in just under an hour”.
Authorities noted that fuel in the form of dead trees on the ground and the remnants of debris from Hurricane Michael in 2018, along with low humidity and strong winds, contributed to the intensity of the fire.
Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, “left 2.8 million acres of broken, uprooted trees,” Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried told reporters on Saturday.
“These extra fuels and dense pockets of vegetation from Hurricane Michael have increased the intensity of wildfires and can be difficult to suppress at times,” Fried said.
Fried also implored residents not to burn trash or yard waste in their backyards.
Florida Disaster and Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie confirmed that multiple state agencies were working on the fire.
“The Florida National Guard is bringing in crews to activate up to four helicopters if we need that asset,” Guthrie added, saying two strike teams are on standby.
Residents evacuated on Friday are not allowed to return home, Ford told reporters on Saturday. Shelters are available and accept pets.
Bay County has approximately 175,000 permanent residents in its 748 square miles. Panama City, a major tourist destination, is its largest city.
There are currently 143 active wildfires burning about 4,700 acres across Florida, including the 1,600-acre Bertha Swamp Fire in Gulf County, the FFS said in the release.