The call arrived about 10 p.m. ET Sunday.

Fire units desperately needed in Eastpoint, where a fire a woods fire had been raging for more than five hours.

At the volunteer departments in Port St. Joe, Highland View and the Beaches, units mustered to bring three Class A pumper trucks and 13 volunteers to assist under a mutual aid agreement among the fire departments in the area.

Units throughout the region showed up to assist.

Port St. Joe Fire Chief John Ford said there was little hesitation.

“They were chomping at the bit,” Ford said of the Port St. Joe volunteers. “We had more at the station than we could carry.”

The Gulf County units would remain on the front lines for nearly four hours, until roughly 2:30 a.m. ET, Ford said.

“They were just glad to see us,” he added, referring to the firefighters first on the scene. “They had been fighting that fire for five hours.”

And to say fighting would be an apt description.

Ford had never seen anything like it and said it was not an easy scene to absorb.

The fire, whipped by blustery winds, ravaged a community, consuming, in total or in portion, 40 homes, countless cars and boats, and leaving nearly 140 homeless, “complete devastation.”

The fire consumed about 820 acres in mere hours Sunday evening.

Eddie Fields, who works with the Christian Community Development Fund, is a resident of Eastpoint and said the fire could have easily spread to his subdivision; according to the Florida Forest Service a mitigation road provided a fire-break.

In all, 136 were directly impacted and possibly left homeless and roughly 250 people had registered with the American Red Cross as of Monday night.

Many of the homeless only escaped, literally, with the clothes on their back.

The property damage is estimated to exceed $800,000.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. (UPDATE: Investigators have focused on a controlled burn performed by the FWC contractor that got out of control as the cause the fire.)

“It was more like a movie, a war zone,” Ford said. “Some of those people got out of there with just the clothes are their back.

“It was very hard to take. We just tried to help those people the best we could.”

The larger community was doing that come daybreak.

Coordinated by the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office, Gulf County Emergency Management and the Port St. Joe Ministerial Association, lists of immediate needs, from water to diapers, was out by late morning.

Marshall Nelson, county director of emergency management, said one trailer full of goods was taken over Monday, including emergency meals.

Collections continued at the EOC through Thursday morning and the transport of another trailer.

Meanwhile, other truck loads were being taken to Franklin County upon arrival.

Businesses and civic organizations also joined the effort by Monday afternoon and there were a host of local initiatives to aid the drive to assist.

“We have had an amazing response,” Nelson said.


Relief efforts

There are immense short- and long-term challenges for the Eastpoint community.

The primary outlet is a GoFundMe page established by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition, Franklin’s Promise Coalition, a long-term recovery organization, is coordinating the relief effort.

That link is:

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