TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A controlled burn by state contractors sparked a wildfire that destroyed 36 homes and burned more than 800 acres (320 hectares) and officials have suspended the practice statewide, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture said Wednesday.
Adam Putnam said an investigation by the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement eliminated other possible causes, including lightning, arson or an accidental cause.
“My heart goes out to those affected by this devastating wildfire, and I thank all of our partners in the response effort to stop the spread of the fire,” Putnam said.
The fire broke out late Sunday in the coastal community of Eastpoint near the historic town of Apalachicola in Florida’s Panhandle.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement that a private company was contracted to burn 480 acres (194 hectares) on June 18. The agency said 580 acres (235 hectares) of private land separated the controlled burn from the Eastpoint neighborhood.
Controlled burns are used as a forest management tool.