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Celebration falls victim to drought

Fireworks are out. So is the Patriotic Evening. ""We don't think it would be top quality ... without the grand finale,'' a city official said.

By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000


INVERNESS -- Dangerously dry conditions have forced officials from the city and the Chamber of Commerce to cancel the fireworks display and other activities for the July 3 Patriotic Evening.

Officials pointed to Citrus County's drought index of 748, the second-driest reading in the state, and said shooting fireworks into the sky was too risky.

"Under good conscience, neither the city nor the Chamber of Commerce could continue with the fireworks, knowing that one small spark from the fireworks could be detrimental to anyone in the area," chamber Executive Vice President Betty Pleacher said.

City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said even if the city got a couple of thunderstorms in the next month, the desertlike conditions would remain. The ground is so parched, he said, that the water would just run off the surface, not soak in.

"That (information) is what tipped the scales for us," DiGiovanni said.

Without the fireworks, which are the main attraction of the family festival, city Parks Director Pati Smith said there was no point in holding the other events of the evening, such as games and live music.

"We don't think it would be top quality, what people expect, without the grand finale," she said.

Mike Schlaudraff, county Fire Services Division director, praised Inverness for putting safety first. He said the county, which has been averaging three brush fires a day, likely will follow suit when commissioners discuss a proposed fireworks ban during their June 6 meeting.

"We can't stop you from having fireworks," he said of the public. "But we're asking you to take the responsibility on yourselves not to use them."

Crystal River's July 4 fireworks display is still on. Administrative secretary Nikki Meadow said officials would continue to monitor the drought and might postpone the display until Labor Day if necessary.

This is the first time Inverness has canceled its Patriotic Evening. The first event was in 1994. Inverness worked around the drought in 1998 by launching fireworks from a barge on Big Lake Henderson, near the other Patriotic Evening activities at Wallace Brooks Park.

But DiGiovanni said such a set-up, with people and explosives piled on a tiny barge, is too dangerous to try again.

"We're lucky nothing happened then," he said. "One thing goes wrong, and you have nowhere to go."

"Right now we wouldn't have enough water to put (a barge) in anyway," Schlaudraff said.

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