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Trees blown down by Hurricane Michael spark wildfire concerns in the Big Bend

Posted at 8:48 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 20:49:43-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — It's been two and a half years since Hurricane Michael tore through the Panhandle and landowners still feel the burden.

"I lost all of my pines, which were about seven acres standing on a ten-acre tract. And we're still cleaning up here today," said Chris Johnson, who owns land in the Hosford area.

His land was once filled with pine trees. Now, it's bare. He's doing everything he can to clean up the debris on his property.

It hasn't been cheap.

"I'm gonna say with everything combined over $10,000," said Johnson.

Florida Forest Service says 16,000 private forest landowners in the Panhandle were impacted by the category five hurricane. 2.8 million acres filled with trees, uprooted and destroyed. A lot of those trees are still on the ground, and that's a big problem.

"The amount of downed fuel is probably ten times what it was before the storm and maybe more than that in some places," said Erin Albury, the Director for Florida Forest Service.

The lack of equipment able to remove the trees from the ground are also a big concern and is putting homeowners and firefighters at risk.

Todd Schroeder, a Mitigation Specialist with Florida Forest Service said the amount of trees on the surface is making it more difficult for firefighters.

"There's so much laying on the ground it's caused more difficulty in response and suppressing wildfires," said Schroeder.

So this year, the Florida Forest Service launched a new program aimed at fighting wildfires before they start. It's called "Be Wildfire Ready"— an initiative that focuses on the counties here in the Panhandle.

They suggest clearing yard debris, burning yard waste safely and putting together an emergency kit.

You can find out more information on the Florida Forest Service website.