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Florida wildfire quickly grows to 1,400 acres as hundreds evacuate

By Jamiel Lynch, CNN

More than 600 homes have been evacuated as a fast-moving wildfire in Bay County on the panhandle of Florida prompted authorities to issue a state of emergency.

The Adkins Avenue fire has burned more than 1,400 acres (1.6 square miles) and is 20% contained, the Florida Forest Service said.

The fire started Friday when someone was burning trash in their backyard and the flames got out of hand, Bay County Sheriff Tom Ford said at a news conference.

At least two homes have been destroyed and as many as 12 were damaged, Emergency Services Chief Brad Monroe estimated.

There have been no reported injuries or fatalities, he said.

Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll said there is now a burn ban for the county. “Please, no burning. We’ve got to get this fire under control,” he said.

Debris left from Hurricane Michael in 2018 and other weakened trees has hampered firefighting efforts, Monroe said.

“We have some dangerous situations out there with trees that are hanging on,” he said. “We want to be careful to not put our people in those situations where the wind may blow down one of the rotted trees that are standing. We have in many areas some very tall trees that are still standing that we’re worried about.”

The forest service said 72 million tons of destroyed trees is potential fuel for fire.

At least 200 firefighters are battling the blaze and others. One of the other fires is named the Big Bertha Swamp Fire in Gulf County and it grew to 1,600 acres on Friday.

An emergency shelter for evacuees has been set up at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City.

The National Weather Service office in Tallahassee said there would likely be decreased visibility due to fog and smoke Friday night.

Bay County has about 175,000 permanent residents in its 748 square miles. Panama City, a major tourist destination, is its largest city.

The forest service warned earlier Friday fire danger levels are elevated statewide due to critically low humidity.

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