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Fla Panhandle--100 Acre Wildland Fire

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  • captstanm1
    Investigators Suspect Arson

    Arson in West Bay fire

    Investigators believe an arsonist started a 100-acre wildfire near State 79, as authorities have ruled out a host of other causes and narrowed their search to a side road in the West Bay woods.

    The May 28 blaze started early in the afternoon near West Bay Elementary School — along Side Camp Road, investigators believe. It was contained around 4 p.m.

    The case now belongs to the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, which could not be reached for comment. The Florida Arson Alert Association is offering up to a $5,000 award for information that leads to an arrest. The association can be reached at 1-800-342-5869.

    — Anthony Cormier

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  • captstanm1
    started a topic Fla Panhandle--100 Acre Wildland Fire

    Fla Panhandle--100 Acre Wildland Fire

    Wildfire’s cause still unknown

    By Anthony Cormier News Herald Writer 747-5089 / [email protected]
    Authorities have determined the origin of Wednesday’s wildfire off State 79, although they still don’t know the cause.

    Investigators combed the West Bay woods Thursday for clues after the blaze devoured close to 100 acres of brush near West Bay Elementary School.

    The fire started around 2 p.m. Wednesday and forced officials to temporarily close State 79. It took forestry rangers and firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the fire, which jumped the busy thoroughfare and briefly threatened one residence.

    Division of Forestry tractor units tore through the brush, creating fire lines to prevent the blaze from spreading.

    Bay County Control engines, tankers and pumpers aided the rangers, and a handful of other agencies also provided support.

    Division of Forestry spokesman Bob Rhea said Thursday the fire does not look suspicious. "It’s still listed as unknown," he said. "If there’s anything suspicious about it, it’s the area where it started," near the elementary school.

    The Keech-Byrum Drought Index, which measures moisture in the soil and helps rangers determine the risk of wildfire, was around 400 on Wednesday, Rhea said. Its scale is zero to 800.

    That led investigators to believe the fire probably was not a result of spontaneous combustion.

    "No that’s not it," Rhea said. "If spontaneous combustion was the cause, we’d have fires burning all over the state of Florida."

    Investigators said no one was on the elementary school campus when the fire broke out, although they are looking into the possibility of an unauthorized burn that got out of control.

    "That’s the No. 1 cause of fire in the state," Rhea said. "You get people burning outside the rules of law — they’re burning something in a ditch or a barrel — and all of a sudden they can’t control it."

    The fire burned 100 acres of forest just south of the B.V. Buchanan Bridge in West Bay Elementary School.

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