Dry conditions may snuff out fireworks

Fire officials want to ban the sale and use of pyrotechnics, other than for approved shows.

Published May 25, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - No rain may mean no fireworks in your backyard this July Fourth.

With backing from Spring Hill Fire Rescue and the Brooksville Fire Department, Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Mike Nickerson plans to ask county commissioners to consider a ban on the sale and use of fireworks at the board's June 5 meeting.

The only exception allowed would be for permitted fireworks displays carried out by licensed pyrotechnic experts, and where firefighters are on hand during and after the display.

"The board has to make that final determination," Nickerson said. "But we feel right now, that if you set fireworks over any type of vegetation, nine times out of 10 you will have ignition. It's that dry."

The last time fireworks were banned in Hernando was in 2003. A burning ban was also in place at the time; a burn ban has been in effect this year since April 3.

If enacted, the fireworks ban would be open-ended and could still be in effect over the July Fourth holiday. The county commissioners would have to vote to rescind it.

Nickerson said drought index figures show the county average is on the very driest end of the scale, not far from desert conditions.

"The Withlacoochee region rates the third-highest in the state for dryness," he said. "And (Hernando) county is the ninth-highest."

Nickerson is also going to warn commissioners of possible legal ramifications from the fireworks industry, but said that "our citizens' lives and property must be our highest priority."

Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief J.J. Morrison spoke to fire commissioners about the ban, and encouraged them to support it during a meeting Wednesday night.

"This is a very unpopular subject with residents," Morrison said. "It's like messing with mom and apple pie. But it's just so dry out there. We know the potential for disaster and it's nothing we take lightly."

Last Friday evening, while Hernando County firefighters fought to control a 150-acre blaze that began in the Weekiwachee Preserve, Spring Hill crews kept a fire - started by fireworks - from gobbling up a home.

The fire, in a vacant lot full of undergrowth and tall pine trees on Hazelwood Road, got so close to one home that the heat from the blaze melted and warped aluminum siding on the house.

On Thursday, another home on Hexam Road was threatened by a brush fire that claimed a shed.

"We've had multiple fires started by cigarette butts being thrown out of windows," Nickerson said. "I think some people (realize how dry it is). But I think some certainly do not."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Fast Facts:

Illegal, but attainable

- In Florida, fireworks that launch into the air or explode are illegal, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office.

- If caught, the charge is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

- But that doesn't stop residents from setting off their own light displays. Fireworks can be purchased if customers sign a waiver, even though it is still illegal to ignite them.