Thousands flee as wildfire continues to rage in Florida Panhandle, U.S.

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Around 1 600 people were forced to evacuate as Five Mile Swamp Fire continues to rage in the Florida Panhandle. As of Friday morning, May 8, 2020, the fire covered 882 ha (2 180 acres) of land and was 35 percent contained, according to Florida Forest Service (FFS) Blackwater.

The blaze began as a prescribed burn escaped on private land on Monday, May 4, in Santa Rosa County. High winds and extremely low humidity fueled the fires, which prompted multiple fire departments to respond to the area.

"In Florida, when we’re seeing the gusty winds, it’s hurricane season, not necessarily fire season. So the recipe was just right for this fire to make a huge run," Ludie Bond explained, a spokeswoman for the FFS.

Officials confirmed 13 destroyed houses. Some 1 600 people were forced to evacuate, including 1 100 in Santa Rosa. About 500 flee in Walton County as another fire consumed about 233 ha (575 acres) of land. 70 percent has been contained so far, officials said.

A Milton resident named Daniel Felder was one of those who escaped the flames when the fire reached the neighborhood. He described how the sunny skies became dark as winds began to lash. Ash rained from the sky as smoke barreled toward him. "Next thing you know, the fire was right there."

Felder stayed into a nearby pond until the fire passed. Although his residence was not affected, a barn and surrounding trees were hit.

A stretch of the Interstate-10 has remained closed in both directions near Pensacola due to smoky conditions, causing poor visibility. 

No fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Featured image credit: Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments

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