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3 children charged in Palm Harbor brush fire

Residents tell authorities that they saw children running to a nearby house after the the brush fire got started.

Published April 7, 2006

PALM HARBOR - Three children, a lighter and some ducks are believed to be connected to a brush fire that burned 2 acres of woods off the Pinellas Trail on Wednesday evening, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

A 13-year-old boy, his 12-year-old sister and an 11-year-old friend were charged with intentional or reckless "burning of lands," said sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen.

When firefighters arrived at Alt. U.S. 19 and Missouri Avenue about 7 p.m., some residents said they saw children running to a nearby house, said Chief Jim Fletcher, fire marshal with Palm Harbor Fire Rescue.

Deputies approached the house and spoke with the children's mothers. Initially, one mother said she had no information about the fire, but as deputies left, they were told one of the children may have started the fire, McMullen said.

The Times is not printing the children's names because of their ages.

One child said they decided to make a big circle and start a fire. They used a lighter to ignite a pile of leaves and pine needles, they had collected, McMullen said. The kids thought they could put out the fire with water bottles they had brought. When that didn't work, one kid kicked dirt onto the fire. It was unclear if they thought the fire was out.

Then they left to follow some ducks they spotted. They became scared and ran away when the fire grew and they heard the sirens of firetrucks, McMullen said.

The fire didn't cause any injuries or threaten any structures, McMullen said.

It took 12 people and seven fire department units 31/2 hours to put out the fire, Fletcher said. The thick vegetation and terrain made the wooded area hard to access. He said more brush fires are popping up as a result of the dry weather.

The low humidity creates an environment to make fires spread quickly, said Barry Goldsmith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. An unusually dry March led to conditions that contribute to the spreading of fires.

"We've had dry ground for a while so that makes the tinder ready to go," he said.

Since Jan. 1, 2006, 1,537 wildfires have burned 20,798 acres in Florida, according to the state's Division of Forestry. Human carelessness caused most of the fires. March through June is the most active part of the state's yearlong fire season.

[Last modified April 7, 2006, 01:31:16]

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