Gulf County fire departments respond to tenth brush fire since Friday

County Administrator Michael Hammond was mid-sentence during the county’s Monday afternoon special meeting when Commissioner Ward McDaniel’s buzzer went off with an alert.

The room went silent.

“Wewa fire. Wewa fire. Old Panama Highway. Brush fire.”

“Brush fire in Wewa,” said Hammond.

“Brush fire,” repeated McDaniel, who is also the fire chief of the Wewahitchka Volunteer Fire Department.

It was the county’s second brush fire of the day, and their tenth since Friday, according to Gulf County Emergency Management  director Matt Herring.

Minutes earlier, the county commissioners had unanimously approved a seven-day extension of the county-wide burn ban that had been put in place in response to the rapid spread of the Bertha Swamp Road wildfire in the county’s northwest corner on Saturday afternoon.

The fire, which started Friday, has burned over 14,132 acres of mostly swampland as of Monday evening, the majority of which have been in Gulf County, and has spread into neighboring Bay and Calhoun counties.

It is one of three wildfires currently forcing evacuations in Bay County, though no evacuation orders have been issued in Gulf County at this time.

Gulf County was able to send several ambulances and emergency medical crews to Panama City to provide aid for evacuations over the course of the weekend.

But between the brush fires and enforcing the county-wide burn ban, local fire departments are stretched thin to provide assistance.

“We had a couple ambulances that we sent,” Hammond said. “We didn’t send any fire trucks.”

“We had an active fire, and it’s just as dangerous over here,” he continued, referring to a fire that was extinguished on County Road 368 between Overstreet and Jarett Daniles Road ealier Monday afternoon.

In a press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis Sunday afternoon, Bay County Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said the Florida Forest Service was reluctant to call on local fire departments to aid with fighting the Bertha Swamp Road fire and other large fires in Bay County.

Instead, assistance has been coming in from areas of the state that are further away.

“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,” Patronis 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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Hammond said that with the Bertha Swamp Road fire continuing to grow, large amounts of rainfall forecast for Wednesday through Friday of this week could bring some much  needed relief.

“If we get four inches of rain and pretty good dewwings, I don”t see any readon to continue (the burn ban) after that,” he said in the special meeting.  The commission voted to allow Hammond and Chairman of the Board Sandy Quinn to extend the burn ban further should the weather not pan out as predicted.

While the ban is in place,  outdoor burning of any kind is prohibited, including in burn barrels.  Grills may be used only for cooking food, and fireworks are not allowed.

Officials urge residents who have not yet signed up to receive alerts from the county to enroll in ALERTGULF through the Gulf County Emergency Management website.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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