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Series of wildfires burns more than 34,000 acres across Florida Panhandle

Wildfires burning the Florida Panhandle
Three wildfires burning the Florida Panhandle near Panama City 03:47

Officials are continuing to tackle a series of wildfires ignited over the past week across the Florida Panhandle, the state's forest service said. By Wednesday, the Chipola Complex, which includes the Bertha Swamp Road Fire, the Adkins Avenue Fire and the Star Avenue Fire, had grown to more than 34,000 acres due to "extreme fire behavior," including gusty and dry winds.

Around 70 tractor-plow units and 10 air assets have worked for nearly a week to suppress the three fires, the Florida Forest Service said.

Crews have managed to contain around 10% of the 33,047-acre Bertha Swamp Road Fire, officials said Wednesday. But thick, dry and dead vegetation remaining from Hurricane Michael has complicated suppression efforts for the blaze that's burning in Gulf, Calhoun and Bay counties, the Florida Forest Service said. 

Residents around US 231 and Bear Creek are under mandatory evacuations and drivers are urged to steer clear of the area while a strike team of heavy bulldozers work to contain the blaze. 

Forecasted light and steady rain on Wednesday is expected to reduce the Bertha Swamp Road Fire's heat and intensity, but Florida's commissioner of agriculture Nikki Fried warned at a press conference that the weather conditions will "not be enough to decrease the wildfire threat at any time soon."

Meanwhile, the Adkins Avenue Fire had burned 875 acres and was 80% contained as of Wednesday. The Florida Forest Service said reduced fire behavior allowed crews to improve containment on the fire over the past few days. 

Officials lifted all evacuation orders for the blaze and most residents have returned to their homes, although they are still encouraged to keep an eye on weather conditions, the Florida Forest Service said. 

Crews also managed to improve containment on the Star Avenue Fire over the last several days. By Wednesday, the blaze had burned 197 acres with 80% of it contained. All evacuations for the fire were lifted. 

"They are in the phase that we could go ahead and start mopping up," incident commander of the Florida Forest Service Anthony Petellat said regarding the Adkins and Star Avenue Fires. 

Fried encouraged residents near any of the fires to heed caution.

"I continue to urge all residents to be keenly aware of increased wildfire threat here in the Panhandle," she said. "Know how to prepare your yard, prepare your home, and prepare an emergency supply kit before a wildfire ignites."

As of Wednesday, there were some 120 wildfires burning throughout the state.

"We've just got a real bad set of circumstances," Florida's chief financial officer and state fire marshal Jimmy Patronis told CBS News' Tanya Rivero and Nancy Chen. "We need mother nature to give us a break."

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