Severe weather helps contain Florida wildfires

A series of severe storms and heavy rainfall on Wednesday helped Florida Panhandle firefighters in their efforts to contain wildfires threatening nearby communities, officials said.

Several centimeters of rain fell on the region, according to the National Weather Service. Some areas west of Tallahassee near the wildfires saw more than four inches of rain. Lower amounts were recorded in other surrounding areas.

The fires, which are collectively referred to as the Chipola Complex, had scorched more than 34,000 acres by Wednesday evening. They are fed by dead trees and other vegetation left behind by Hurricane Michael in 2018, fire officials said.

“It’s a living, breathing beast,” Brad Monroe, Bay County Emergency Services Chief, said Tuesday at a press conference. “When it produces its own weather, you see lightning in a fire on a nice sunny day, it’s amazing. Words can’t describe it.

The largest fire in the Chipola complex, the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, spanned more than 33,000 acres and was 20% contained, according to a Wednesday evening. Florida Forest Service press release. The fire is centered about 60 miles west of Tallahassee.

“It’s a life-jacket,” Jimmy Patronis, the state fire marshal, said at Tuesday’s news conference, adding that residents shouldn’t take chances. No deaths or injuries were reported.

The other two fires at the Chipola complex — the Adkins Avenue and Star Avenue fires — have combined to burn just over a thousand acres and are nearly under control, officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the press conference on Tuesday that the state is working to provide $6.1 million to help families affected by the fires.

“This whole region has been through a lot in the last three years, starting with Hurricane Michael,” he said. “We need to make sure they are able to take care of themselves like they take care of others.”

Heavy rain was forecast for parts of northwest Florida over the next few days, with more severe weather expected on Friday, the weather service said.

The Florida Forest Service said the threat of wildfire persists, with increased winds and low humidity expected this weekend, and residents should be cautious.

While wildfires have regularly ravaged parts of the American West, this threat could head east.

Recent research has suggested that the heat and drought associated with global warming have caused fires to grow and intensify, with wildfires becoming a year-round possibility.

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