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4:45 p.m. Update: The Florida Forest Service said fire behavior calmed down on Wednesday, mostly due to rainfall.

The Bertha Swamp Road wildfire is reported to be over 33,000 acres and is now 20 percent contained.

Officials said a team of bulldozers are continuing to improve containment lines.

The Adkins Avenue fire is 875 acres and now 85 percent contained. The Star Avenue fire is around 197 acres and is now 95 percent contained.

FFS officials said although the rain helped the fire situation on Wednesday, colder temperatures and increased wind speed will keep wildfire threats present over the weekend. They encourage residents to remain cautious.

All burn bans remain in effect.

4 p.m. Update: The Dogwood Way wildfire in Callaway is 100 percent contained, according to the Florida Forest Service.

The fire started last Wednesday, and it was the first wildfire to spark in the Chipola Complex.

It reportedly claimed one home and multiple vehicles.

2 p.m. Update: Waller Elementary will reopen Thursday.

1 p.m. Update: As News 13 reported Tuesday the inmates at Gulf Correctional Institution were evacuated as the Bertha Swamp Road wildfire moved closer to the facility.

In a news release, the Florida Department of Corrections said, staff and administration successfully evacuated nearly 1,700 inmates from Gulf Correctional Institution due to a nearby wildfire.

“I am immensely proud of our staff for their unyielding devotion to our mission, especially while working under pressure,” said Secretary Ricky Dixon. “We also appreciate our local law enforcement and emergency management partners for their ongoing efforts and ask you to keep the communities impacted by this fire in your thoughts and prayers.”

The department added that all inmates and staff are accounted for, safe, and well. Transfers have been completed to Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle, and the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley.

The department said the location of the inmates on the website will be updated within 24 hours. 

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11 a.m. Update: Bay County Emergency Services released a map of the Bertha Swamp Road fire and more information this morning.

The fire pushed northeast into Calhoun County last night. A wind shift is forecasted this afternoon that is expected to push the fire back towards Gulf County.

Bay County Emergency Services

10 a.m. Update: The Florida Forest Service has issued an update about the wildfires.

This morning, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) announced the Chipola Complex, which encompasses three wildfires, has grown to more than 34,000 acres as extreme fire behavior continued through the evening yesterday. There are approximately 70 tractor-plow units and 10 air assets working to suppress wildfires in the Chipola Complex.

Light, steady rain is expected today, which will reduce the heat and intensity of the Bertha Swamp Road Fire. This will provide improved access for wildland firefighters, allowing them to establish and improve containment lines around the fast-moving wildfire.

Bertha Swamp Road Fire:

The Bertha Swamp Road Fire continues to grow, now estimated at 33,047 acres, and containment remains at 10%. Suppression efforts remain challenging as the fire pushes through thick, dry, and dead trees and vegetation left behind from Hurricane Michael. The Bertha Swamp Road Fire originated in Gulf County and has spread into Calhoun and Bay counties. A strike team of heavy bulldozers continues to establish and improve containment lines focusing on defensible space around communities.

Emergency management officials conducted some evacuations in the Kinard community as the Bertha Swamp Road Fire moved further into Calhoun County on Tuesday. Residents are encouraged to receive updates from local public safety officials and the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency at CalhounEMA.org.

Adkins Avenue Fire:

The Adkins Avenue Fire is 875 acres and is now 80% contained. Reduced fire behavior allowed the firefighters to improve containment on the Adkins Avenue Fire over the last several days. 

All evacuation orders for the Adkins Avenue Fire have been lifted and most residents have returned home. While evacuations have been lifted for this community, residents are encouraged to remain cautious in the event the situation changes. Residents can continue to follow updates from the Bay County Emergency Services on Facebook. Residents can register for emergency notifications at AlertBay.org.

Star Ave Fire:

The Star Ave Fire is estimated at 197 acres and is now 80% contained. Reduced fire behavior allowed the firefighters to improve containment on the Star Ave Fire over the last several days. This fire ignited near Tram Road and Star Avenue and forced the evacuation of the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home. However, all evacuations for this area have been lifted.         

Wednesday, March 9, 8:30 a.m. Bear Creek Evacuations lifted

The mandatory evacuation for the Bear Creek area of Bay County were lifted at about 8 a.m. Wednesday morning as heavy storms moved through the area. Officials said residents can return home.

Bay County Sheriff’s Office Substation damaged in morning storm

“At approximately 6:15 a.m. what appears to have been a tornado caused damage to the BCSO substation in Callaway and the fire station adjoining the substation,” Bay County officials said in a news release on Facebook. “Windows were smashed in, vehicles in the parking lot sustained damage as did a portable building on the property. A nearby mobile home park also sustained damage. No one appears to have been injured.”

Also, Jackson County Schools closed Wednesday because of severe weather.

News 13 at 10:00 PM Update:

Bertha Swamp Fire

Bay District Schools Wednesday Closures

Waller Elementary School will remain closed on Wednesday.


6:30 p.m. UPDATE: The Florida Department of Corrections ordered the evacuation of the Gulf Correctional Institution Tuesday evening out of an abundance of caution as the Chipola Complex fires burn over 29,000 acres.

Our media partners in Gulf County, the Port St. Joe Star, said there are 14 transport buses en route at this time to move inmates, according to Gulf County Emergency Management.

The fire is not spreading in the direction of the prison at this time.


News 13 at 6:00 PM UPDATE

Bertha Swamp Road Fire

The Bertha Swamp Road Fire continues to grow, now estimated at 28,109 acres, and containment remains at 10%. The fire continues to show extreme fire behavior and has steady winds pushing the fire through thick, dry, and dead trees and vegetation left behind from Hurricane Michael. The Bertha Swamp Road Fire originated in Gulf County and has spread into Calhoun and Bay counties.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for residents in and around the Bear Creek area south and east of US 231. Motorists and residents are encouraged to remain clear of the area and to follow updates from the Bay County Emergency Services on Facebook. Residents can register for emergency notifications at AlertBay.org.

Adkins Avenue Fire:

The Adkins Avenue Fire is 875 acres and is now 80% contained. Reduced fire behavior allowed the firefighters to improve containment on the Adkins Avenue Fire over the last several days. 

All evacuation orders for the Adkins Avenue Fire have been lifted and most residents have returned home. While evacuations have been lifted for this community, residents are encouraged to remain cautious in the event the situation changes. Residents can continue to follow updates from the Bay County Emergency Services on Facebook. Residents can register for emergency notifications at AlertBay.org.

Residents preparing to rebuild after Adkins fire destroy homes

Bay County first responders among many evacuees


4 PM UPDATE: The Florida Forest Service issued an update about the wildfires Tuesday afternoon. Their full news release is below:

Today, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) announced the Chipola Complex, which encompasses three wildfires, has grown to more than 29,200 acres as dry, windy weather persists in the region and fire danger levels remain elevated. Over the last few days, gusty winds have picked up in the early afternoon and lasted through the evening, causing erratic fire behavior. Weather conditions today are no different and forced additional evacuations in Calhoun County. While the weather forecast in the coming days calls for a possibility for rain, it will not be enough to decrease the wildfire threat any time soon, especially in the Hurricane Michael-impact area.

There are currently more than 70 tractor-plow units and 10 air assets, including 2 FFS helicopters, 1 FFS fixed-wing aircraft, 1 Southeastern Compact fixed-wing aircraft, 3 Florida National Guard Black Hawk helicopters, 3 Florida National Guard Chinook helicopters, and 2 Southeastern Compact single-engine air tankers (SEATS), working to suppress wildfires in the Chipola Complex.

Bertha Swamp Road Fire:

The Bertha Swamp Road Fire continues to grow, now estimated at 28,109 acres, and containment remains at 10%. The fire continues to show extreme fire behavior and has steady winds pushing the fire through thick, dry, and dead trees and vegetation left behind from Hurricane Michael. The Bertha Swamp Road Fire originated in Gulf County and has spread into Calhoun and Bay counties.

A strike team of heavy bulldozers continues to improve established containment lines focusing on defensible space around the communities near Bear Creek.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for residents in and around the Bear Creek area south and east of US 231. Motorists and residents are encouraged to remain clear of the area and to follow updates from the Bay County Emergency Services on Facebook. Residents can register for emergency notifications at AlertBay.org.

Adkins Avenue Fire:

The Adkins Avenue Fire is 875 acres and is now 80% contained. Reduced fire behavior allowed the firefighters to improve containment on the Adkins Avenue Fire over the last several days. 

All evacuation orders for the Adkins Avenue Fire have been lifted and most residents have returned home. While evacuations have been lifted for this community, residents are encouraged to remain cautious in the event the situation changes. Residents can continue to follow updates from the Bay County Emergency Services on Facebook. Residents can register for emergency notifications at AlertBay.org.

Star Ave Fire:

The Star Ave Fire is estimated at 250 acres and is now 80% contained. This fire ignited near Tram Road and Star Avenue and forced the evacuation of the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home. However, all evacuations for this area have been lifted. Reduced fire behavior allowed the firefighters to improve containment on the Star Ave Fire over the last several days.

There are currently nearly 130 wildfires burning approximately 33,000 acres throughout Florida. Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters and resources from numerous fire and emergency service departments are working around the clock to help suppression efforts.

It is important for residents to use extreme caution and remain aware of current wildfire activity. To view active wildfires, visit FDACS.gov/ActiveWildfirePoints. To learn how to prevent and prepare for a wildfire, visit BeWildfireReadyFL.com.

For media with questions regarding the Chipola Complex, email Julie.Allen@FDACS.gov or call 386-503-7351. Follow @FLForestService and @FFS_Chipola on Twitter for ongoing updates.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres.

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3:00 PM UPDATE:

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about wildfires

WMBB News 13’s Jake Holter captured this image of the Bertha Swamp Road wildfire on Tuesday.

2:15 p.m. Update: Bay County officials said the Bertha Swamp Road fire has grown in intensity. Crews are working to expand containment lines to protect homes.

The mandatory evacuation is still in effect for the Bear Creek community.

The Adkins Avenue and Star Avenue fires have remained the same in size and containment, and firefighters have made progress with fire containment lines, according to officials.

Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story reported that the city of Kinard was under a voluntary evacuation order. The Kinard Volunteer Fire Department has said that is not accurate. And there is no evacuation recommendation at this time.

1:30 p.m. Update: Waller Elementary School will remain closed on Wednesday.

12:30 p.m. Update: Firefighters are seeing an increase in fire activities in the Bertha Swamp Road fire in the Calhoun County area, according to officials on scene. 

They added that they are concerned about the fire jumping County Road 12.

Strike teams from across Florida are working to contain the fire.

11 a.m. Update: Bay County Emergency Management has issued new maps about the Bertha Swamp Road Fire.

The Bear Creek community remains under a mandatory evacuation order due to the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, which grew overnight to 28,109 acres, and is now primarily located in Calhoun County. Please see the attached maps.

Bertha Swamp Road Fire
Evacuation Zone for Bertha Swamp Road Fire

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford released a statement Tuesday morning about the response to the wildfires. His entire statement is below:

This week has been another challenge that we in Bay County have faced with incredible resiliency and strength.

I witnessed acts of heroism by deputies and firefighters that truly saved lives and hundreds of homes. The dedication and sacrifices that the deputies and staff of the Bay County Sheriffs Office, local police departments, firefighters, forestry, Florida National Guard, and emergency services make are truly an inspiration to me.

Our leadership team at the state and local level is strong and doesn’t let egos get in the way of doing what’s right for our community. Governor Desantis, CFO Jimmy Patronis, DEM Director Kevin Guthrie, Representative Trumbull, Senator Gainer, Congressman Dunn and others never left our side and were instrumental in getting the resources on the ground we needed.

Our local police chiefs are the best partners I could ask for and we are there for each other. We have been through a lot standing right beside our county leadership and they show what true leadership means. County Manager Bob Majka, Chief Monroe and their staff are the best of the best. Our County Commissioners were at the command post and in the field all day, every day providing the resources and support we needed.

Although we are not out of the woods, I’m feeling very grateful this morning to serve with these great men and women in the best county in the country. Thank you to all the citizens of Bay County who show what it’s truly like to support first responders, making our job such a blessing. May God bless us and continue to keep us safe.

Sheriff Tommy Ford

8:30 AM UPDATE: (WMBB) — Here’s the latest from Bay County Emergency Services:

At this time the Bertha Swamp Rd Fire is 28,109 acres and 10% contained. The majority of the growth is in Calhoun County. We will have a map soon.

The Adkins Rd Fire is 875 acres and is 50% contained.

The Star Rd fire is 250 acres and is 60% contained.

We have had questions about why it’s called the #ChipolaComplex. Our Florida Forest Service district is called Chipola. A multiple fire response is referred to as a complex.

8:00 AM UPDATE:

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, held a news conference Tuesday morning about the Bay County wildfires.

She was joined by Johnny Sabo, Assistant Director of the Florida Forest Service and Anthony Petellat, Incident Commander at the Florida Forest Service. Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters and resources from numerous fire and emergency service departments are working around the clock to help suppression efforts.

You can watch the full news conference above.


News 13 This Morning Updates:

EMS Chief Interview

EMS Safety Interview