A stinky day to spend outside

Published May 9, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Second-grader Joseph Perrotta clamped his T-shirt to his face as he walked across the Sand Pine Elementary School campus to his classroom.

His classmates behind him pinched their noses, held their breath and otherwise tried to fend off the smoke and odor that blanketed most of the region Tuesday.

"I don't want smoke to get into my lungs, " Joseph, 8, explained after entering the building. "I go to (the Museum of Science and Industry), and they have a lot of body exhibits, and I don't want to get dirty lungs."

That concern prevailed around Pasco County. From schools to outdoor restaurants, people worried about the health hazards of the thick haze that appeared overnight from fires to the north.

While wildfires cropped up in both Florida and Georgia, Pasco's smoke plumes wafted in from Bradford County, said Alex Gibbs, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

At its peak early Tuesday, the smoke from a 16, 000-acre brush fire in Bradford, southwest of Jacksonville, flowed toward Marion and Citrus counties, and continued south into Pasco.

He said it should be clear by this morning, "but we may still have some lingering."

In an emergency 5-0 vote, the County Commission ordered a ban Tuesday on burning yard waste or other materials in the unincorporated areas of the county. Campfires and bonfires are banned, too, but residents may still use legal fireworks.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino had all outdoor school activities moved indoors or canceled. The Florida High School Athletic Association called off all games, including the Pasco High baseball regional final against Bishop Moore High and the Pasco High softball state semifinal game against Okeechobee.

Schools also canceled outdoor recess. But the biggest impact was at P.E. time. Elementary schools don't have gyms, so they usually conduct the classes outside, in fields and on courts. Not Tuesday.

Instead, kids played Four Corners and danced the Hokey Pokey in their classrooms.

"You're limited in the activities that you can do, " said Chuck Boltze, Sand Pine P.E. teacher. "But we're pretty flexible. ... It's no different than (a) rainy day."

Elsewhere around the county, the smoke didn't deter some from enjoying the day.

"You can see the smoke and smell it, but my deck is full now, " Hooters restaurant general manager Steve Walker said of the lunch crowd. "People are tolerating it."

Some residents called 911 to report the smoke.

"Every other call ... they think a fire is going on, " said Jody Kenyon, supervisor for Pasco Fire Rescue Dispatch.

Pasco sent a 1, 500-gallon tanker and several firefighters Tuesday to help battle the blaze in Bradford County, said Cynthia Holland, personnel chief for the county's emergency services.

Health officials encouraged everyone else to stay indoors.

"I've seen a couple people with regular appointments this morning, and they've noticed an increase in coughing, " said Kevin Sierra, a doctor at Tampa Lung Specialists. "This stuff will linger. My advice is to stay indoors as much as possible."

Some Pasco residents who work outside weren't concerned. After 15 years living in Florida, Dan Zadorozny, a mechanic at Taylor Tire & Automotive in Port Richey, has gotten used to the smoky air.

"It's doesn't bother me, " he said, climbing beneath a Ford Taurus in the mid-morning haze. "It's like being in a campfire all day. What are you going to do? It's Florida."

Times staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this report.

Fast Facts:

When there's smoke

State and local health officials offered tips on how to deal with smoky air from brush fires:

- Limit time spent outdoors for children and people with existing medical conditions.

- Run your air conditioning with the fresh air intake closed. Make sure you have a clean air filter.

- Don't use anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas stoves and candles.

- Don't vacuum. It stirs more particles into the air.

- If you see smoke, call 911 to report its location.

- If you have chest pain, rapid heartbeat, fatigue or shortness of breath, see your doctor.

Source: The state health department and the Pasco County Health Department