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Bay County's largest wildfire has grown overnight, crews make progress on containment

The Bertha Swamp Road fire began on Friday morning in Gulf County and pushed into Calhoun and Bay Counties on Saturday, March 5, 2022.
Bay County Emergency Services
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The Bertha Swamp Road fire began on Friday morning in Gulf County and pushed into Calhoun and Bay Counties on Saturday, March 5, 2022.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 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.
Valerie Crowder
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WFSU News
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."

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