UPDATE 5 p.m.: Residents of the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans’ Nursing Home were safely returned to the facility on Monday after the Star Road fire was deemed no longer a threat to the complex.
UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: THe Florida Forest Service is now reporting that the Bertha Swamp Road fire is 14,132 acres with 10 percent containment.
Two ambulances from Gulf County Emergency Medical Services assisted in the evacuation of the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Bay County yesterday afternoon after a third large wildfire threatened the complex, according to Matt Herring from Gulf County Emergency Management.
The fire, dubbed the Star Avenue fire, broke out in the afternoon south of Tram Road and west of Star Avenue and spread quickly due to the dry, windy weather. The fire is now about 250 acres in size and 45 percent contained.
The nursing home, which serves elderly veterans, was ordered to evacuate its 88 residents, most of whom were taken to the emergency shelter at the Bay County Fair Grounds.
Family members who want to check on their loved ones are asked to call (850) 401-2356.
“We are thankful for our crews who stepped up to assist Bay County with mutual aid throughout the weekend for the Adkins/Bertha fires and during the evacuation of Sims VA Nursing Home this afternoon,” wrote Gulf County EMS in a Facebook post Sunday. “Our employees are committed to meeting the needs of not only our county’s citizens but also our neighboring counties as well.”
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Gulf County ambulances have remained available to help with wildfire efforts throughout the weekend and were also sent to help evacuate a nursing home in Bay County on Friday, after the Adkins Avenue fire threatened the Springfield neighborhood of Panama City.
Other Gulf County emergency responders remain on standby as the Florida Forest Service and firefighters from around the state enter their fourth day combatting wildfires in the area.
The Bertha Swamp Road fire, which began in northwest Gulf County on Friday, is now burning more than 12,000 acres in Gulf, Bay and Calhoun counties according to a Monday morning update from Bay County Emergency Management.
Overnight, firefighters were able to improve containment of the fire from 10 to 20 percent.
In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Bay County’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said that officials were doing their best to avoid involving emergency response personnel from areas also experienceing high wildfire risks.
“The teams that we’re drawing from are the ones that are basically not dealing with the same type of weather and environment we’re dealing with right now,” he said. “People ask why don’t we have somebody from Tallahassee or Pensacola? They’re dealing with the exact same weather conditions we are right here, so it’s better to bring those that are out of harm’s way.”
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The Florida Forest Service’s Blue Incident Management Team assumed control of the firefighting efforts in Bay County this morning.
Herring said that Gulf County emergency personel are ready to step in if they are called to help. No homes are believed to be in danger in Gulf County at this time.
The Wewahitchka Women’s Club is accepting donations of snack bars, crackers, fruit, gatorade, vienna sausages and other grab-and-go type foods for first responders combatting the fires in donation boxes at Fisher’s Building Supply in Wewahitchka and the Port Inn in Port St. Joe.
Donations will be taken to first responders on Wednesday.