Florida wildfire: Hope for relief from light, steady rain

March 9, 2022 GMT
A fast-moving wildfire looms over homes outside of Panama City, Fla., Friday, March 4, 2022. More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from throughout the Florida Panhandle worked overnight into Saturday, to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. (Mike Fender/News Herald via AP)
A fast-moving wildfire looms over homes outside of Panama City, Fla., Friday, March 4, 2022. More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from throughout the Florida Panhandle worked overnight into Saturday, to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. (Mike Fender/News Herald via AP)
A fast-moving wildfire looms over homes outside of Panama City, Fla., Friday, March 4, 2022. More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from throughout the Florida Panhandle worked overnight into Saturday, to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. (Mike Fender/News Herald via AP)
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A fast-moving wildfire looms over homes outside of Panama City, Fla., Friday, March 4, 2022. More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from throughout the Florida Panhandle worked overnight into Saturday, to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. (Mike Fender/News Herald via AP)
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A fast-moving wildfire looms over homes outside of Panama City, Fla., Friday, March 4, 2022. More than 200 firefighters and emergency workers from throughout the Florida Panhandle worked overnight into Saturday, to strengthen containment lines and protect homes. (Mike Fender/News Herald via AP)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Fire officials hoped Wednesday that a light, steady rain in the Florida Panhandle would help ease three wildfires that have threatened homes and forced hundreds of evacuations in an area that was ravaged by a Category 5 hurricane three years ago.

The rain was a break from five days of dry, windy conditions that had fueled three wildfires in and around Bay County, Florida.

The coastal area was hit in 2018 by Hurricane Michael, which left behind 72 million tons (65 million metric tons) of destroyed trees that have provided fuel for the blazes. The hurricane was directly responsible for 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage in the U.S.

The rain should allow firefighters access to previously dangerous areas so that they can plow containment lines around the wildfires. But fire officials warned residents on Wednesday not to let down their guard.

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“While the rain being seen now is good, increased winds and low humidity are expected this weekend, which means the wildfire threat remains, and residents should remain cautious,” the Florida Forest Service said in a statement.

Over the weekend, residents were evacuated from 1,100 houses in Bay County, but more than half were allowed to return home on Monday. So far, only two homes have been destroyed and another dozen damaged, with the destruction occurring last Friday. The fire that caused that damage, the 875-acre (355-hectare) Adkins Avenue Fire, was 85% contained on Wednesday, fire officials said.

A smaller fire that had caused the evacuation of a state-operated nursing home for veterans, the 197-acre (80-hectare) Star Ave. Fire, also was 95% contained Wednesday. Residents were allowed to return earlier in the week.

The largest of the wildfires, the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, grew to more than 33,000 acres on Wednesday and was 20% contained. It started in Gulf County and expanded into neighboring Bay and Calhoun counties. An undisclosed number of residents in Calhoun County were evacuated on Tuesday.

The Florida Forest Service said Wednesday that there were 120 wildfires burning more than 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) throughout Florida.