Fast-moving wildfire damages homes in North Florida

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent, Associated Press
Associated Press

Residents savage possessions from their homes that burned last night in Eastpoint, Fla., Monday, June 25, 2018. A fast-moving wildfire damaged or destroyed dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

EASTPOINT, Fla. - A fast-moving wildfire damaged or destroyed dozens of homes in a Florida county.

Gov. Rick Scott visited the small coastal community of Eastpoint on Monday to get an update on the damage. Eastpoint is in Franklin County and is near the historic town of Apalachicola and the beach area at St. George Island.

The fire broke around late Sunday afternoon and moved quickly. As many as 20 to 30 homes may be complete losses, a volunteer firefighter told The Tallahassee Democrat.

Cellphone video recorded Sunday evening depicts a scene that many residents described as the most horrifying moment of their lives.

Barbara Fox said she and her family barricaded themselves in their garage as they attempted to fight back the flames.

“The wind was amazing and you could hear explosions outside," Fox said.

Fox's home was spared, but the same can’t be said for others.

“All the houses across the road were down, were just completely gone," Fox said.

Franklin County Sheriff A. J. Smith said that as many as 700 acres were burned, but no deaths have been reported.

The fire prompted authorities to order evacuations on Sunday. Smith said people should be able to return to their homes sometime Monday.

Many residents, including Shirley Freeman, were still waiting to be allowed to survey the damage early Monday afternoon. 

"We don't know anything. My brother lost his (home)," Freeman said. "I just want to get in there and make sure that I still have a home." 

While the fire was contained, hot spots threatened to resurrect the blaze.

State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said the cause has not yet been determined, but officials are working overtime to get power restored and help residents moving forward.

"Right now, they cannot access their most precious investment they'll ever make financially in their life, and that's their home," Patronis said. "Duke has been around here almost 24 hours now getting the power restored in order to be able to get the scene safe so the people that are here can try to get back to normal."

The community is also coming together and collecting supplies for those in need.

“The people around town have just more than generous. They have opened their doors to everybody that needs help," said Sandy Sanders, with the American Red Cross.

Residents said many who lost their homes don’t have insurance, making recovery especially daunting. 

The Sheriff’s Office has set up a GoFundMe page to help the victims of the fire.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.