TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Forestry officials expressed concerns Tuesday that Northwest Florida communities still struggling from a deadly hurricane in October will soon face the threat of massive wildfires and flooding.
The region sustained significant timber damage in Hurricane Michael, which made landfall October 10th in Mexico Beach as a Category Four storm and then roared through the Panama City area and largely rural Panhandle communities into Georgia.
Depending on how much debris isn’t cleared or picked up, the state could face costly new disasters, Florida State Forester Jim Karels warned Governor Ron DeSantis and members of the state Cabinet. Karels feels three weeks without rain in Northwest Florida, followed by a windy day, could lead to worse fire threats than California has recently dealt with.
“If we don’t get breaks in there, and we don’t start to remove that debris, we are going to see catastrophic fire," said Karels.
So far, rainy weather the Panhandle since fall is keeping the downed timber damp. However, flooding concerns now pose a risk to structures and roadways. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says many waterways often show only a few downed trees sticking up.
However, he feels many rivers are plugged with trees.
“If you can picture your slow-draining shower, this is exactly what is happening right now. Our drains are clogged, and as our drains are clogged, the water has nowhere to go," said Patronis.
About 90 percent of the 72 million tons of debris created by Michael is expected to remain on the ground after the storm. The entire debris total is considered 10 times what was left by Hurricane Irma, which hit far more areas of the state in September 2017.