Bay firefighters sent to help Texas

By Paul L. Mikolajczyk News Herald Writer 747-5089 /

PANAMA CITY Five Panama City-based forest fire fighters are heading west for the holiday to provide backup for Texas firefighters facing heightened fire conditions thanks to recent dry weather.

The firefighters are part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Forestry and could spend up to two weeks assisting firefighters in Linden, Texas, said department spokesman Jim Harrell.

Ronnie Taylor, David Schotwell, Roy Rushing, William McGowan and Zachery Yates are heading west with 17 other firefighters from the Northern Panhandle’s Forestry Division, Harrell said.

The local men, who normally battle wildfires in Jackson, Walton, Calhoun, Gulf, Bay and Washington counties, are taking two firefighting tractors, Harrell said.

“Their primary job will be to reinforce the fire-fighting capabilities of the Texas Forest Service during the Fourth of July weekend,” he said.

An adequate amount of rainfall in Florida and anticipation of continued precipitation throughout the state has made it possible to send the firefighters to help other states battling wildfires, Harrell said.

The assistance is part of a mutual aid pact between Florida and Texas, and the expenses for the deployment of the firefighters and the equipment are reimbursed from the agency requesting aid.

The forestry division expects to receive more requests for aid from Texas firefighters this summer and fall thanks to droughts throughout Texas, Harrell said.

The assistance comes about nine months after Texas firefighters came to the Panhandle to provide emergency services during Hurricane Ivan.

“The Texas Forest Service assisted Florida last year in hurricane recovery efforts and we are happy to repay the favor,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson in a news release.