1 p.m. Monday afternoon
The Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross sheltered 51 people Sunday night, and is bolderting its intake operation at the Eastpoint Church of God to address the immediate needs of others, as the toll of the Eastpoint wildfire damage is fully known.
"We'll probably have that many and possibly more tonight," said Sharon Tyler, director of the Capital Area chapter, which serves a 12-county region. "We’re planning on keeping the shelter open for several days."
The church fellowship hall offers food, shelter and emergency assistance to victims of the fire Tyler said the Red Cross is also providing canteening services for first responders.
She said the Red Cross would have a clearer picture of the extent of the devastation once people have returned to their homes. Tyler said clients will be referred to those providing long-term solutions, in terms of housing, clothing and other needs.
Sheriff A.J. Smith said victims advocates from his office as well as the public defender's office are reaching out to those in need as well.
1 a.m. Monday morning
A fast-moving fire in Eastpoint sent scores of people fleeing from the homes Sunday evening with just the clothes on their backs, with fears growing that as many as 12 homes may have been destroyed in the blaze.
Sheriff A.J. Smith said early Monday morning that one man had died Sunday evening of what appeared to be heart attack, after receiving CPR near the Eastpoint Cemetery.
Tress Dameron, emergency management coordinator, said that early estimates are that six to 12 homes were affected by the fire, which began sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. on Ridge Road and quickly spread to Bear Creek and Wilderness Road. Those areas as well as CC Land, Twin Lakes, North Bay Shore and portions of Hwy 65 were evacuated by sheriff's deputies.
"It's terrible. It's catastrophic," said Smith. "There are a lot of homes that are gone.
"Some of them lost everything they've ever worked for. It's heartbreaking," he said.
Smith said roads in the area will remain closed at least until Monday morning, after there's been a chance to survey the damage. Electricity remains off. "It's not safe," he said.
Smith said the fire was largely contained by 10 p.m. Sunday, and that it likely consumed at least 300 acres.
The sheriff said he spoke Sunday evening with Gov. Rick Scott and several other cabinet officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose department oversees the Florida Division of Forestry, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose department regulates insurance issues. Smith said the governor plans a Monday morning visit to the neighborhood devastated by the blaze.
Fire departments from throughout the county responded to the fire, as deputies rushed to evacuate the area. Dameron estimated about 125 people were forced from their homes.
In addition, the Florida Department of Forestry worked to contain the fire by cutting fire lines with tractors to eliminate further spreading.
"We called out every deputy we had," said Smith. "It was all hands on deck."
The sheriff said there was at least one traffic mishap in the rush and confusion, and that deputies made some arrests, although none were related to any known instances of looting.
The Eastpoint Fire Station initially opened up for those evacuees, and those who didn't find a place with family or friends, were directed to the Eastpoint Church of God. The American Red Cross was busy registering people, and offering them an overnight shelter. The women of the church plan to prepare breakfast for the people Monday morning.
The Red Pirate served up food Sunday night to those who fled the flames, cooking up hamburgers brought over from Fisherman's Choice from the recent youth fishing tournament.
Among those who stopped by was Cody Putnal, who lives at 677 Wilderness Road, along with his mother Martha, and brother Joey.
Putnal said he believes their home was spared because about six months ago, they had cleared out much of the property to make room for four horses they brought in.
He said Joey let the horses loose as the flames neared, and the family quickly packed goats, chickens and ducks into a Jeep to get them out safely.
"The fire just missed the horses," said Putnal.
Cody Putnal said he heard an explosion, and went to see what it was. Other recall hearing what were likely propane tanks, shotgun shells, gasoline cans, even vehicles. exploding.
Martha Putnal said she looked out the window and noticed "It's getting black out there" and then realizing the flames were whipping towards the house, and she better leave.
Paul Sanders stopped by the Red Pirate, and said he believes the fire destroyed his entire home. He comforted his 8-year-old son.
"We have each other," he told the boy, who just months earlier had lost his mother.
Cody Putnal said he ran out of the house so fast he left his medicines, some for a heart ailment. His mother said that as they fled, they passed by the house of a friend, Mason Moore, and saw it was completely gone.
"You could see through the house all the way to Ridge Road," she said. "The fire was moving down the road." she said. "We drove through it."
Christy Russell had to convince her boyfriend, Ryan Williamson, who at first thought it was "a little house fire down the road," to flee.
"Everybody was going down the road," he said.
"Panicking," she added.
Williamson didn't even grab his wallet and Russell took only one thing as she left. "The first thing I grabbed was my baby's blanket," she said.
She ran next door, to alert her neighbor. "All I could see was orange," Russell said. "I felt the heat."
Matt Polous did the same thing, going next door to the house of Sean Boatwright, to make sure he was awake and would get out in time.
Polous ran back to his house, and when his wife Paula pulled up, returning from her job on St. George Island, he yelled for her to leave. She never entered the home; he left without even his billfold.
Polous said friends with the fire department have told him his property at 605 Ridge Road is destroyed, one of the first to be swallowed in the blaze.
"My whole backyard was fill of boats," he said, at least 14 different ones, from a 55-foot grouper boat down to a 17-footer. One of those boats belonged to brother in law, Jack Page, who planned to oyster Monday morning.
Instead, he and his wife rushed from their home in Crawfordville to the scene, noticing the smoke as soon as they passed St. James Bay.
Polous said he lost a sawmill, several trucks, a load of deadhead cypress, and probably a lot more, as he and his wife registered at the church with the Red Cross, and figured out how to handle housing for his dad, Jimmy Joe Polous.
"It wasn’t no joke, The ashes were falling on my head," said Amanda Nowling, who said she and her two boys, Rodney Yowell, 8, and Tyler Yowell, 5, fled from their home on 608 Ridge Road, without time to grab even her cell phone.
"There was nothing but smoke. You could see glowing in the sky," she said.
Dominic Rotella, and his girlfriend, Robin Walker, gathered as many of the kids as they could in the back of his pick-up, Roscoe, 13, Nathan 12, Shelby, 10, Smokey, 10, Cheyenne, 10, Little Nick 9, Riley, 6, and Kelsey, 9, and drove off, a little after 5 p.m.
"Mama wouldn’t leave because of the dogs," said Amanda Nowling, describing how they were clearing their yards when they first noticed the sudden rush of smoke.
Terry Thompson, who is wheelchair-bound, was quickly loaded into a vehicle by Penny Rotella, as they two managed to escape. "It was just black smoke," said Thompson. "Smoke, smoke, smoke."
The Humane Society animal shelter remained open, and accepted animals displaced by the fire, Dameron said.