OKALOOSA ISLAND — Firefighters worked late Thursday night to extinguish a brush fire that burned 1.5 acres of federal land near the Marler Bridge that likely was sparked by people shooting off illegal fireworks.
Okaloosa Island Fire Chief Kevin Carvalho said he received the first call about the fire at 9:18 p.m. and crews had extinguished the blaze by 11 p.m. Crews from the Fort Walton Beach and Ocean City-Wright fire departments assisted at the scene along with personnel from Eglin Air Force Base, Jackson Guard, Okaloosa County EMS and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
“The challenges with this fire were that there were dense brush, swampy water and rattlesnakes that struck the boots of one of our firefighters,” said Carvalho, who added that the firefighter was not injured. “The terrain was difficult to navigate on foot, and vehicles can’t really get back here. There are big deep holes and little hills, and it was hot.”
Carvalho said he could not officially confirm that fireworks caused the blaze, but said “one could be led to conclude” that they were the source.
“I mean, fireworks were going off in the area,” he said.
There were no reports of injuries.
Alan Myers of Destin said he was near the west jetty when the fire started. Myers said he saw the blaze sparked by beachgoers who shot off a Roman candle-type firework that malfunctioned.
“It started out relatively small and spread really quickly,” he said. “I was upset. That’s natural habitat for animals that are indigenous to the area. Some folks just don’t respect that.”
Under Florida law, only sparklers are approved for consumers' use, according to the South Walton Fire District. That rules out any fireworks that explode or fly, including shells, mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers.
Mike Spaits, spokesman for Jackson Guard, which controls the property, said Friday that biologists did not believe any nesting species were affected by the fire.
The species that could exist there are snowy plovers, least terns, black skimmers, Choctawhatchee beach mice and ospreys. It’s also suitable habitat for Chladonia perforate, commonly known as reindeer lichen.
The Sheriff's Office said it has turned the fire investigation over to Eglin security. Spaits had not said as of Friday afternoon whether the base was investigating.
Thursday night was the second time that fireworks were believed to have caused a brush fire in that area. A fireworks show after the Destin Boat Parade on Dec. 11, 2016, was suspected to have ignited a blaze that burned almost an acre.