Jacksonville firefighter battling Panhandle fire: Seeing homes destroyed ‘hits you in the gut’

Firefighters battling pair of wildfires in the Florida Panhandle

Panhandle wildfires
Panhandle wildfires

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Firefighters are battling a pair of wildfires in the Panhandle that have consumed more than 2,500 acres, closed a portion of Interstate 10 and destroyed structures.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said a team of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department was sent to help battle the Five Mile Swamp Fire in Santa Rosa County, which was estimated at 2,000 acres and 35% contained as of 10 a.m. Thursday, according to the Florida Forest Service.

JFRD Battalion Chief Trace Barrow told News4Jax on Thursday the firefighters haven’t slept since they got the call at 10 p.m. Wednesday that they would be traveling to the Panhandle. He said everyone was on board without hesitation and some left with only the clothes on their back.

“We were able to get five engines together and myself and we left Jacksonville about midnight and we arrived over here around 6:30 Jacksonville time and met up with some of the commanders over here, and by 7:30-8 o’clock, we were dragging lines and putting fire out," Barrow told News4Jax.

On Thursday, JFRD said, firefighters worked to put out structure fires near Milton, Florida, where the Five Mile Swamp Fire raged.

“I know that just the area that we that our crews have worked, at least 10 to 12 residential houses were destroyed, completely destroyed," Barrow said.

“It’s just unbelievable when you drive by and see someone’s life is just there in shambles and it just really hits you in the gut when you know what these people are going to see when they come home," Barrow said.

For Barrow, the hardest part is seeing families return to their now unrecognizable homes.

“Some of the residents from the neighborhood we were in, they’re coming back right now and they’re coming back to totally destroyed houses and you could see the pain in their face. It’s terrible for them," Barrow said.

Despite the devastation, Barrow said he’s grateful that he and his fellow firefighters are able to help.

JFRD said it anticipates being in the Panhandle through Friday, and it’s expecting conditions to pick up with stronger wind speeds in the forecast.

In neighboring Walton County, firefighters are also battling the Mussett Bayou Fire, which was estimated at 575 acres and was 60 percent contained as of 10 a.m. Thursday, according to the Florida Forest Service.

In addition to JFRD, Flagler, Clay and St. Johns counties also said they were sending crews to help battle the fires.

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