BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A fire started around noon on Wednesday in the Wild Heron area in Bay County.
Panama City Beach Fire Chief Morgan said they believe a piece of heavy equipment, used for clearing property, started the fire in the wooded area behind Wild Heron.
“It was like looking at early, early dawn or late dusk and that putrid smell of the smoke, seeing the black smoke, I knew it was oily and had to come from the pine trees, and then ash, some of it the size of bacon strips,” resident and HOA President Steven Undercoffer said.
By the time crews arrived on the scene, the fire had spread.
“Any time we get high winds like this and low humidity is a big concern for us so perfect fire weather and today you see the results of what can happen with just a spark,” Morgan said.
As the fire grew the concern for nearby structures did too. Officials went door to door evacuating residents from nearly 20 homes on Lost Cove Lane.
“All of a sudden, we got the knock on the door that said, it’s time, time to get out,” Wild Heron resident Tom Balduf said. “It was a scramble. We gathered up a lot of different belongings, mostly paperwork and things like that, and gathered up the cat and got out of town.”
Evacuation orders have since been lifted. Panama City Beach and Bay County officials were also on the scene to support the community and first responders.
“We want to make sure that if there’s a piece of equipment that’s needed, that we’re here to be able to make phone calls to people at the county level, at the state level, anywhere they need a phone call to be made, we want to make sure we’re here supporting the team to make sure we’re doing all we can to contain this fire,” Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon said.
Chief Morgan said crews will remain on the scene until the fire is 100% contained.
“Back Beach Road could have the potential with smoke on the road, whenever night comes, the air density drops, the smoke that is elevated comes to the ground, we’re going to have signs up that says caution smoke, please slow down, pay attention,” Morgan said.
The latest update from officials is the fire is about 150 acres and 40% contained.