Despite Recent Rain, Drought Conditions Get Worse

December 3, 2016

The showers and thunderstorms across the area earlier this week made little difference in our local drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Escambia County in Florida and the western third of Escambia County in Alabama are in a severe drought, while most of Santa Rosa County and the remainder of Escambia County in Alabama are in an extreme drought.

A total burn ban remains in effect in Alabama as a result of the drought, while the Florida Forest Service has strongly discouraged any outdoor burning.

While not likely to totally alleviate the drought, there is hope for some relief in the form of showers and thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday night through Monday night. But overall, the drought is expected to continue into winter when below normal rainfall is i the local forecast.

Click graphics to enlarge.

Local Resident Escapes Gatlinburg Fires

December 3, 2016

A beautiful mountain-view Gatlinburg vacation turned into a horrifying drive for local residentJennifer Ness.

An operator at Gulf Power’s Distribution Operations Center, Ness had to evacuate from the wildfires around Gatlinburg which burned more than 700 buildings and killed at least 11 people earlier this week.

Ness evacuated safely to a nearby hotel and returned home on Tuesday. But she lost all the possessions she had taken except her purse.

“It was definitely a horrific experience,” she said Thursday from her  home. “I feel so heartbroken for the community and the people there. It’s just like going through a hurricane and losing everything they have.”

Ness left Sunday to spend a week’s vacation at Westgate Resort, located between Pidgeon Forge and Gatlinburg, where her parents had a timeshare condo. Her best friend, Kathy, was supposed to go, but had to back out so Ness went on her own.

She had never been to the area before and when she arrived late Sunday afternoon, she was amazed at the view.

“The place was amazingly beautiful,” she said. “The condo was incredible and all around the area, they had decorated for the holidays. I was looking forward to sight-seeing and shopping for Christmas.”

But Monday morning, when she went out on the balcony for a cup of coffee, she noticed the smoke. The view was gone and it was hard to breathe.

Ness texted her timeshare host, who told her there was a fire on Chimney Top, a nearby mountain. She instructed Ness to stay indoors until later that Monday afternoon.

Around 2 p.m., she noticed the view had cleared a little, so she went into town, returned to the condo around 6 p.m. and put on her pajamas to settle down for the evening.

Just an hour later, her host called and told her she needed to evacuate.

“She told me to drive as far away as you can,” Ness said. “She reiterated that I need you to leave now. I didn’t realize the extent of how serious it was.”

She put on her clothes, grabbed her purse and got in her vehicle. All four lanes of traffic had been routed to leave town.

The scene on the road was horrific. Embers from the mountain fire had blown down and ignited trees on both sides of the highway. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and took Ness 45 minutes to get out of the area.

“You could see the flames on the mountain,” she said. “It was an unbelievable site. It seemed like an eternity to get out.”

While she was driving, she called Kathy, who booked her a hotel room in nearby Sevierville. She checked in and then called her family members to let them know she was OK.

Later in the hotel, she saw news video of the resort burning. All that was left standing was an elevator shaft. All her possessions she had brought were gone, including her clothes, a Nikon camera with a zoom lens and her jewelry, including a Pandora bracelet with 24 charms given to her by her children.

The blazes scorched thousands of acres in the resort-heavy area, burning more than 700 buildings in Sevier County, including about 300 in Gatlinburg alone, and injuring at least 74 people, officials said. Ness was one of more than 14,000 tourists and residents that had to be evacuated.

“All the beauty I drove into and then seeing the fires was unbelievable,” she said. “It wasn’t about grabbing my personal belongings. I was thinking about my children, my grandchildren and my mother and to get out safely. It makes you think about the things that are important to you in your life.”

Ness decided to check out of the hotel Tuesday and return  so the hotel room would be available for a displaced family. She will return to work next week.

“With our job at the DCC, we’re always the first ones to respond,” she said. “To be on the opposite side as an evacuee was a place I would never want to be again. When I arrived there, I was so excited to be there and experience what my parents love so much. Now, I’m glad to be home.”

Northview Presents Christmas Concert (With Gallery, Videos)

December 3, 2016

The annual Northview High School Christmas Concert was held Friday night at the school. The event featured the Northview concert band, beginner guitar class, monologues from the theater class, vocal soloists and the Ernest Ward Middle School band.

Two video highlights are below: the Northview band with “The Polar Express” (top) and Catie Clayton with “The Christmas Song” (bottom).

For more photos, click here. photos and video, click to enlarge.

Winning $55K Fantasy Five Ticket Sold In North Escambia

December 3, 2016

Someone is over $55,000 richer this morning after purchasing a winning Florida Lottery Fantasy 5 ticket in Davisville.

fant5.jpgThe ticket sold at the State Line Gift Shop, 11208 Highway 97, was one of four winning tickets sold for Friday night’s drawing worth $55,345.54. Other winning tickets matching all five numbers were sold in Palm Bay, Beverly Hills and Delray Beach.

The ticket was the third winning Fantasy Five ticket sold this year at the State Line Gift Shop.

The 307 tickets matching four numbers won $115 each. Another 8,873  tickets matching three numbers are worth $11 each, and 88,646 ticket holders won a Quick Pick ticket for picking two numbers.

Friday’s winning numbers were 16-20-23-28-33.

Dear Santa: Jim Allen Students Present Christmas Play

December 3, 2016

Students at Jim Allen Elementary School presented their Christmas program “Dear Santa” Friday morning.

For a photo gallery, click here.

Photos by Savanna Calhoun for, click to enlarge.

Woman Struck By Her Own Vehicle

December 2, 2016

A woman was struck by her own vehicle Thursday in the Bogia community.

The 53-year old woman reportedly exited her vehicle in a pasture to open or close a gate when the vehicle began to roll. She was reportedly struck by the vehicle’s door in the accident, which occurred off Pine Barren Road near Bogia Road.

The woman was transported by Escambia County EMS to Baptist Hospital with injuries that were no considered serious.

The accident is under investigation by Florida Highway Patrol. Further details were not released. photo, click to enlarge.

Century Lights Town Christmas Tree

December 2, 2016

The Century Town Council held a Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Thursday night at the Nadine McCaw Park. The Byrneville Elementary School Chorus led Christmas carols during the event. The lights are on nightly in the park, which is located on North Century Boulevard at Hecker Road in Century. photos, click to enlarge.