Ed. Note: This story was updated following the news conference.

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — First responders and homeowners across The Panhandle are now dealing with the largest wildfire in the state.

“When you’ve got this much timber on the ground all it takes is one small spark and that’s what happens,” Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a Tuesday morning news conference.

“There’s more than 29,000 acres burning across 3 wildfires,” she added. Most of that comes from the Bertha Swamp Road Friday which is more than 28,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained.

Forestry officials say that fires of this size and this early in the season are highly unusual. Fried suggested Panhandle residents prepare for fire season by packing an emergency go-bag, heeding evacuation warnings and most importantly do not burn while burn bans are in place.

“Do not do any burning in your backyard this is so imperative,” Fried said.

Fried said her team has been working on reforestation and land clearing efforts since Hurricane Michael struck in 2018. They have used state and federal funding as well as private grants to fund the projects but they’ve faced challenges ranging from lack of manpower to limited equipment.

“It is 2.8 million acres that is not going to happen overnight,” Fried said.

Ultimately, private landowners will have to do their part to clear the land, she added.
“If there are large or even small landowners that haven’t spent the time energy and unfortunately the cost the damage could be more severe,” she said.

The Department of Agriculture is seeking more grant and funding resources for landowners to clear Hurricane Michael debris.

Fried said she also plans to expand wildfire prevention education statewide.

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — 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.