The Army Corps of Engineers is testing a hot ash deposit that started a deadly wildfire near Panama City Beach

Lumber mill says hot ash may have sparked deadly wildfire

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — A hot ash deposit atop a hilltop on Florida’s west coast is believed to have started a deadly wildfire but has not been tested for signs of methane, an organic chemical that can cause deadly explosions and even ignite a fire with a high concentration of it.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted tests Friday on a site off Okeechobee, the site of the first of three fires ignited by the same hot ash deposit that has destroyed homes near Panama City Beach.

The tests are still in the early stages of analysis, and an investigator from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency within NOAA, said more study is needed.

The Panama City Beach Fire Department chief said the new tests did not confirm a link to the deadly fire, but were positive for the presence of the organic chemical in the ash.

“It’s just a preliminary report from the testing process because they haven’t yet decided what they’ll do with this report,” said Panama City Beach Fire Department Chief Gary Alston.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it has about a dozen investigators that will examine the site that’s a half-mile from the edge of a forest that hasn’t been cut in three years because of fire danger.

“It’s kind of an interesting story,” said Andrew Pollack, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. “The Army Corps of Engineers is going to investigate and we may end up finding something in the future.”

Alston said the hot ash deposit, which was first discovered by workers for Florida Power & Light earlier this week, is on private land adjacent to an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County that covers about 10,000 acres.

Alston said the fire grew out of control because people and cattle were using the open, forested area for grazing and not burning it as much.

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