PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — A massive wildfire in Bay County is highlighting the wildfire danger to much of the Panhandle that remains after Hurricane Michael.
The October 2018 category five storm brought down most of the trees in Bay County, and in many areas, those trees and debris remain on the ground.
News 13 asked state officials about that issue during a Saturday morning news conference.
“We’ve done a lot, as you know,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “What we’ve been able to do is really create the fire lines around so many of the buildings and so much of the area have cleaned out debris.”
She added that much of the debris was behind homes.
“Working with homeowners has been difficult,” Fried said. She added that the department has to subcontract out for some of the work and those contractors aren’t always available.
Mike Mathis, the manager of the Chipola Forestry Center Field Unit, said the agency had initiated several different programs to try and deal with the issue.
“Since the hurricane, there has been many moving parts to the mitigation process for dealing with this timber on the ground,” he said.
He added that the department has created mitigation lines around neighborhoods and that they have overseen a timber recovery block grant programs, which pays landowners to clean up their land and reforest it. He said about 30 percent of the timber has been cleaned up since Hurricane Michael in 2018.
“We’ve done a lot of efforts to try to clean this up,” Mathis said.
However, one method has not been tried because forestry officials believe it will be too dangerous.
“Just prescribe burning it, is really not an issue because you can see what happens in a fire,” Mathis said. “We can’t put a line around it to prescribe burn it in a safe manner. There is just too much fuel on the ground and it … doesn’t really accomplish much. It just burns really fast and it still leaves the big stuff on the ground to grow.”