Last month, A fire near Highway 79 put a big dent in memorial day weekend plans for a lot of people.
Now, Bay County officials are working to make sure future emergencies are handled with better communication.
"the fire showed me that we had a problem with not evacuation, but any other kind of road problems.. I think they were handled wrong,” said Commissioner Mike Thomas. The Friday before Memorial Day, a busy weekend for Panama City Beach, a controlled burn near highway 79 got out of control, burning more than 100 acres. "Unfortunately, this fire jumped its line and made its way over Highway 79 then we were called to assist forestry," said Fire Chief Mark Bowen. Multiple agencies were called out to assist, but unfortunately the road was closed for hours and the rest of the town was backed up because of it. “Once the fire is going, you really cant do anything there, but the question is how fast can we get the information out to motorist and we can do that on message boards," said Bowen. All that is left now is the charred remains, but this fire taught the commission that an update is need to their emergency transportation plan.
"I think that there are so many government agencies that are so territorial that they don't work well with others," said Thomas. "I want us, the county, to be the catalyst to come up with a plan." Thomas estimates 30,000 people or more were impacted by the delays.
"We have to have plans in place to make sure these things get done," said Bowen. "We cant just depend on another agency to do it. We have to have eyes on these things and that we are bringing every resource we have to that situation."
Bowen says that the Florida legislature will not allow to county to restrict a land owners right to burn, but he will meet with them to ask for voluntary consent to limit burning close to busy weekends.