Four Flagler Firefighters Off To Panhandle

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UPDATE (05-07-20): News Daytona Beach reached out to Fire Chief Don Petito, who offered more insight into the mission being undertaken by these firefighters.

According to Petito, COVID-19 will serve as a major obstacle not only in their command posts that usually hold about 70 men, but it will also make evacuation efforts that much harder.

"I think there were 2,000 people who were evacuated," said Petito. "They need to be housed somewhere that can still provide them social distancing and safety."

Flagler's team comes from Fire Station 16, which is situated near the border of Flagler and Volusia County. These men are trained not only to handle structural fires, but also wildfires. Both of those skills will come in handy when battling the fires up in the Panhandle.

Petito says that those men, along with the other 18 firefighters in Petito's strike teams, will mostly focus on structural fire protection in an effort to keep homes safe.

Locally, Petito says that fire danger is high but he's not too worried. The high level of fire danger in the area can be blamed on low humidity, dry conditions and windy conditions that could favor a spread of wildfires.

But, Petito said that there have been no incidents besides a small fire that was reported in Volusia. There's also some help from the air, thanks to Flagler's Fire Flight helicopter, which runs daily reconnaissance missions to check conditions and for small fires in the area that can be taken care of quickly.

You can find our earlier reporting below.

Bunnell, FL - Four Flagler County firefighters and one truck are now part of the crews battling the outbreak of wildfires in the Panhandle.

Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito says that he coordinated two strike teams for deployment comprised of 10 engines and 44 firefighters from five counties, including Flagler, and Jacksonville, to help combat the wildfire breaking out in the panhandle. 

According to Chief Petito, there are currently 11 fires in that region, including two large fires that have already destroyed homes.

Firefighters Dave Hudson, Sean Walker, Alex Patton, and David Dufek deployed around nine o'clock last night (May 6th) as part of one of the strike teams with Engine 16. The crews will work a three-day mission.

Officials report that the Musette Bayou Fire in South Walton County has grown to over 600 acres and has burned 100 structures already – including 30 homes. Additionally, the 5-mile Swamp Fire in Santa Rosa County started out as a 250-acre fire that quickly grew to more than 2000 acres and burned 18 structures.

“It will be interesting to see how the command post, evacuation centers, and crews working the fire line will be able to practice social distancing while concentrating on their tasks,” Petito said.

There are currently 52 active fires in the state. Locally, according to the the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, Flagler County is 360 on a scale where the driest condition is 800. So far, Chief Petito isn't worried.

“We are in pretty good shape here,” Petito said. “Humidity is low today and the winds are high, but that is changing for the weekend."

Petito added that he spoke with Anthony Pettalatt, the Bunnel District Manager for the Florida Forest Service and part of the incident management team for the 5-mile Swamp Fire, and said there was only one small fire in the local district in Volusia County.

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