Santa Rosa County

Florida Division of Emergency Management

And we're off!

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun and families are again being advised to prepare in the event of a storm. However, things this year are just a bit different.

“We are switching gears and telling everybody that we don’t know (what the situation will be) with the COVID, so you probably ought to plan for seven days.”

Leah Thornton

Florida Forest Service firefighters continue to reinforce containment lines and mop up hot spots of the 2,215-acre Five Mile Swamp Fire. Tuesday morning, FFS reported the fire was 90% contained. 

Monday’s red flag warning has expired, but Blackwater Forestry Center spokesman Joe Zwierzchowski says the weather continues to be a challenge.

“It’s still dry, still dangerous,” he said. “We want people to be cautious until we see some decent rainfall.”

Blackwater Forestry Service

The Five Mile Swamp fire 75% contained, a week after it started.

The fire reached a total of 2,215 acres, said Joe Zwierzchowski of the Forestry Service’s Blackwater office. 

While it is an improvement, Zwierzchowski said the area’s red flag warning – meaning high temperatures, low humidity and stronger winds – has firefighters still working harder to extinguish flames and prevent further spreading. 

“What we are doing to mitigate is we have firefighters within 50 feet of the containment line smoldering hot spots,” said Zwierzchowski.

Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

A private company with permission to conduct a controlled burn this week in Santa Rosa County could be hit with a hefty price tag for letting the fire get out of control.

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Monday fire, named the Five Mile Swamp fire, had consumed 2,000 acres of land in central Santa Rosa County, destroyed a dozen homes and damaged several other structures.

The Geo Group

With four inmate deaths due to coronavirus and more than confirmed 50 cases, Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County has been the epicenter of the outbreak in the Florida prison system. The privately-operated prison is now second to Tomoka Correctional Institution, which 54 COVID-19 cases.

Jennie McKeon / WUWF

Santa Rosa County officials on Friday closed Navarre Beach in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the county ordered all restaurants to sell food by takeout or delivery. 

It was a reversal of an announcement Thursday afternoon that the beach would remain open.

Santa Rosa County

The beaches of Santa Rosa County remain open. County officials said the beaches will remain open as long as the public follows the guidelines of social distancing. That means groups no larger than 10 people can congregate.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon in Milton, Dan Schebler, county administrator said the decision to keep the beaches open will be reassessed daily. Deputies with the Sheriff’s Office will monitor the situation to make sure beachgoers keep apart a healthy distance.

Santa Rosa County

After two hours of public comments, the board of Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to take on a resolution that would make the county a “pro-life sanctuary.”

Residents, pastors, and staff from local pregnancy resource centers lined up to share their views, a majority of them were in favor of the resolution and dismayed at Board Chairman Don Salter, who blocked the resolution from being placed on Monday’s agenda, because it was “too controversial and above the county’s purview,” he told Pensacola News Journal. Salter was the lone “no” vote.

Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

The Santa Rosa County Commission is ready to approve an all-new group of appointees to the county’s zoning board. The new members will get right to work, with a new formal set of ground-rules.

Commissioners are appointing an entirely new zoning board, three weeks after controversial remarks by three members prompted commissioners to dismiss all 10 individuals from that advisory committee, and any other committees on which they served.

Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

District 3 state Representative Jayer Williamson is pitching the idea of transferring jurisdiction over Woodbine Road in Pace from Santa Rosa County to the Florida Department of Transportation.

A Hope of Santa Rosa County

Earlier this month two nonprofit organizations, A Hope of Santa Rosa County and Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), hosted a clinic offering inexpensive microchips and rabies vaccines — and they were met with a long line of animal owners.

“We did 260 rabies vaccines and 150 microchips,” said Brandi Winkleman, executive director for A Hope. “The only reason we didn’t do more was because we ran out.”

Santa Rosa County is forging a partnership with the University of West Florida’s Haas Business Center to provide expanded economic analyses to county officials.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project is for one year. Then it will be revisited to see if it needs tweaking.

WUWF Public Media

Santa Rosa and Okaloosa are among eight Florida counties in line to receive funding from the 'BearWise' program, to help reduce conflicts between bears and humans.

Bear populations in the state were up in 2015, the latest figures available from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), compared to the last estimate taken in 2002. There were roughly 120 bears in the western Panhandle of Florida – a 50 percent increase -- and nearly 1,100 in the eastern Panhandle – up 86 percent.

Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season is now officially underway. The six-month season runs from June 1 to November 30.

This year, emergency managers across Florida didn’t have to wait until June to deal with a tropical event as Subtropical Storm Alberto showered much of the state with rain as it tracked toward the Pensacola area for several days before drifting eastward and making a Monday landfall in Panama City.

As the debate continues over a new courthouse for Santa Rosa County, one county commissioner is weighing in with his own ideas about location, location, location. 

You’ve no doubt heard this before: when the courthouse opened in Milton, Babe Ruth was hitting homeruns and “The Jazz Singer,” with Al Jolson and not Neil Diamond, was in the theaters.