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  1. Local Weather

As wildfires spread in Panhandle, state tells St. Petersbug firefighters to stand down

A stretch of Interstate 10 remains closed but winds that spread the fire were diminishing Thursday. Some rain is expected Friday.
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As wildfires burned hundreds of acres in Santa Rosa and Walton counties in the Panhandle, state officials asked for help from across the state.

St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue was asked by the state to send a four-man engine to Santa Rosa County to help battle wildfires that have forced evacuations and destroyed homes.

The department has planned to send an engine as part of a Pinellas County strike team to help the area as soon as possible, said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Steven Lawrence. But later Thursday, state officials told St. Petersburg their help was no longer needed.

Hillsborough Fire Rescue and Tampa Fire Rescue have not received requests for help, the agencies said.

Related: Wildfires rage in dry Panhandle, forcing evacuations outside of Pensacola

Interstate 10 remained closed Thursday morning along a nine-mile stretch east of Pensacola in Santa Rosa County and evacuation recommendations remained in place for thousands of Floridians.

Three fires were burning in northwest Florida on Thursday. The main blaze, dubbed the “Five Mile Swamp Fire,” had grown to 2,000 acres and destroyed nearly 18 homes Thursday morning, according to the Florida Forest Service.

A separate fire, in Santa Rosa Beach, destroyed several dozen structures overnight, according to Walton County Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez. The fire has now grown to cover over 500 acres and is 60 percent contained.

“We’ll be here all day until this is done,” Sanchez said. He said he hoped the Walton County fire could be 100 percent contained Thursday.

The Hurst Hammock fire in nearby Escambia County had burned 60 acres as of late Wednesday night and was 40 percent contained.

The Five Mile Swamp Fire, the largest fire in the region, started as a prescribed burn Monday but quickly grew out of control by Wednesday. Winds of 15 to 20 mph and dry weather spread the blaze quickly.

As firefighters from throughout the state convened on Florida’s northwest corner, the winds calmed Thursday to 5 mph to 8 mph , said Stephen Miller, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala.

“We are expecting the dry conditions to continue, but, the good thing is we are expecting winds to be lighter today,” Miller said. “And that was the biggest issue they had Wednesday.”

Firefighters could use the help, but Miller said no rain is likely Thursday. There is a 30 percent chance of rain for Santa Rosa County from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the night, according to the weather service.

Meantime, the Five Mile Swamp Fire is still just 20 percent contained, according to the Forest Service.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Santa Rosa emergency management officials said in a news release. “If you do not feel safe in your home, you should leave. Take your pets with you.”

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