Burning trash, building a campfire or setting off fireworks without permission can bring a penalty as high as $500 or six months in jail.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000
BROOKSVILLE -- Burning of any kind without a permit became taboo Tuesday after commissioners adopted an emergency drought ordinance for unincorporated Hernando County.
Penalties could run as high as $500 or six months in jail for anyone found building a campfire or bonfire, burning yard trash or household garbage, or setting off fireworks without first gaining permission from state or local fire authorities.
Commissioners asked the administration to look into whether the county can hold anyone who sets a fire that causes widespread damage financially responsible for the costs involved in putting it out.
"I think it's appropriate," Chairman Paul Sullivan said about including penalties in the ordinance, which remains in effect until the commission ends its drought emergency. "Without it, (the ordinance) means nothing."
Hernando followed Citrus and Polk counties, which also adopted burn bans during the past month, because the chance of wildfires has grown more severe in recent weeks. The 0.33 inches of rain that fell on the county Monday did nothing to ease the threat, a captain from East Hernando Fire Department told the commission. Windy, dry days are expected.
What's more, the drought index for the entire region remained above 600 -- near tinderbox conditions -- with some parts of Citrus and Pinellas counties above 700.
The commission did not ban some types of burning it deemed unlikely to spread, such as controlled, enclosed industrial fires or fire department exercises.
"Certainly at this time of year in Florida, I don't think anyone wants to prohibit outdoor cooking," said William Buztrey, assistant county attorney.
But barbecues must be done in a "suitable piece of equipment designed to contain the fire, flame and heat generated thereby," the ordinance states.
The commission did not move to limit lawn sprinkling beyond the restrictions set by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud. Rather, it gave County Administrator Paul McIntosh the authority to train and use any county employees to more strictly enforce the twice-a-week watering rules already in place.
Violators will get a warning the first time and a $25 fine the second time.
"If we don't get their attention, the third phase will be up to a $500 fine," McIntosh said.
The Code Enforcement Department will track all citations issued. The Sheriff's Office began enforcing the restrictions more strictly over the weekend and reported issuing 18 first-violation citations.
B.J. Jarvis of Swiftmud praised the county for its water management program, saying the combination of restrictions, education and enforcement proves potent. Ninety percent of the people who get a citation and a note explaining the rules do not repeat, she said.
"Folks want to comply," Jarvis told the commission. "When they're aware of the rules they tend to do that."