The Chipola Complex, which encompasses three fires, has burned more than 34,000 acres in the Florida Panhandle. More severe weather is expected on Friday, meteorologists said.
A series of severe storms and substantial rainfall on Wednesday helped firefighters in the Florida Panhandle in their efforts to contain wildfires that are threatening nearby communities, officials said.
Several inches of rain fell across 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 blazes, which are collectively called the Chipola Complex had burned more than 34,000 acres by Wednesday evening. They are being fed by dead trees and other vegetation left by Hurricane Michael in 2018, fire officials said.
“This is a living, breathing beast,” Brad Monroe, the chief of emergency services in Bay County, said Tuesday during a news conference. “When it produces its own weather, you see lightning strikes within a fire on a bright sunny day, it’s incredible. Words cannot describe it.”
The largest blaze in the Chipola Complex, the Bertha Swamp Road fire, was more than 33,000 acres in size and was 20 percent contained, according to a Wednesday evening news release from the Florida Forest Service. The fire is centered about 60 miles west of Tallahassee.
“It is a life taker,” Jimmy Patronis, the state fire marshal, said during the news conference Tuesday, adding that residents should not take chances. No deaths or injuries have been reported.
The two other Chipola Complex fires — the Adkins Avenue and Star Avenue fires — have combined to burn a little over a thousand acres and are nearly contained, officials said Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said during the news conference on Tuesday that the state was working to provide $6.1 million to help families affected by the fires.
“This whole area has been through a lot in the past three years, starting with Hurricane Michael,” he said. “We need to make sure that they are able to take care of themselves as they take care of others.”
Heavy rainfall was forecast for parts of northwest Florida over the next few days, and more severe weather was expected on Friday, the Weather Service said.
The Florida Forest Service said the wildfire threat remained, with increased winds and low humidity expected this weekend, and that residents should be cautious.
While wildfires have routinely ravaged parts of the American West, that threat could be making its way east.
Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming has been causing fires to grow bigger and stronger, with wildfires becoming a year-round possibility.