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Hundreds flee Florida wildfires fuelled by category five hurricane’s damage

Saturday, March 5th 2022, 5:23 pm - Several large wildfires burning on the Florida Panhandle are being fuelled by widespread tree damage left behind by category five Hurricane Michael’s landfall in 2018.

Crews in Florida are racing to contain two growing wildfires that forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Warm weather, ongoing dry conditions, and significant tree debris left behind from 2018’s Hurricane Michael contributed to the infernos near Panama City, located on the state’s Panhandle.

Sunrise on Saturday saw more than a dozen active wildfires on the Florida Panhandle at the beginning of the weekend. The two most serious blazes are burning just east of Panama City, which is home to almost 40,000 people. The Bertha Swamp Road and Adkins Avenue fires have consumed almost 17 square kilometres in total as of Saturday afternoon.

Florida Wildfire Status

The Adkins Avenue fire is the most pressing concern for firefighters and residents, burning in a wooded area on the eastern edge of Panama City proper.

The Florida Forest Service reported on Saturday that the Adkins Avenue fire had consumed 560 hectares of land and was just 30 percent contained. The agency said in a Saturday press release that the blaze forced the evacuation of 600 homes, burned two structures, and damaged a dozen more.

The Panama City News Herald reported Saturday morning that the Adkins Avenue blaze may have started with a trash fire on private property.

WATCH: HURRICANE MICHAEL MAKES LANDFALL NEAR PANAMA CITY ON OCTOBER 10, 2018

Many of these wildfires are a testament to the long-term effects of major hurricanes years after they make landfall.

Hurricane Michael made landfall just east of Panama City back on October 10, 2018. The scale-topping category five hurricane roared ashore with 260 km/h winds, causing immense and widespread damage across the Panhandle. The Florida Forest Service said on Friday that the fires were fuelled by 72 million tonnes of lingering tree debris left behind by Michael’s intense winds.

(NOAA/NESDIS) Visible satellite image of Florida wildfire March 5, 2022 A visible satellite image of wildfire smoke over the Florida Panhandle on March 5, 2022 (NOAA/NESDIS)

Tree debris is only part of the equation. Weather conditions across the Florida Panhandle have been favourable for wildfires in recent days. It’s been warm and dry here lately—the same pattern that brought unseasonable warmth to parts of Eastern Canada this week allowed temperatures to soar into the upper 20s to near 30°C in parts of the southeastern United States.

The dry and stagnant pattern that built over the southeastern U.S. this winter also contributed to an ongoing drought in the region. Last week’s update of the United States Drought Monitor found moderate drought conditions existed around and east of Panama City, right where the fires sparked this week.

With files from Panama City News Herald.

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