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Brief rain a refreshment, not relief

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
John T. O'Connor improvises a rain cover Monday at Fero Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Beverly Hills.
HOMOSASSA -- The glorious sound of rain returned to Citrus County on Monday, as raindrops beat the arid ground in short-lived spurts that failed to lower the risk of wildfire.

The rainfall, the most Citrus has seen since March 31, was part of a narrow, late-season cold front stretching from Bayport to Ocala, said meteorologist Russell Henes of the National Weather Service.

Still, for a county that remains the second driest in Florida, people took what they could and rejoiced in the event.

"I said a prayer of thanks that we were getting it," said Terri Magee of Inverness, calling herself the owner of some "very happy" cactus. "It was coming off the roof like a waterfall. It was wonderful."

Henes said the probability for rain Monday could increase to 30 percent or 40 percent toward the end of the week. While the results Monday ranged between a half-inch and an inch-and-a-half, Citrus needs much more precipitation than that to increase fire safety, according to Chassahowitzka Volunteer Fire Department Chief Leon Roush.

"I tell you, this rain we had today didn't make any difference at all," Roush said. "We're going to need at least 10 to 12 inches of rain to make a difference. We're just a powder keg waiting to explode."

The state drought index, a measure of the amount of water contained in the first 3 feet of soil, lists Citrus as 755 out of a possible 800. Only Pinellas County, at 756, ranks higher on the index.

The Withlacoochee District, which comprises Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Sumter and Lake counties, was rated last week as the most vulnerable area in the state to wildfires. Roush advised people to take no chances.

"We had some people in Chassahowitzka (Monday morning) who dumped their charcoal and went fishing and a camper saw it and put it out," he said. "People don't think about stuff like that. It could have been bad."

If prayer counts, lots of people seem to be trying to help. A local nursery owner recently admitted to concocting a rain dance with her friends. Even County Commissioner Jim Fowler got into the act a couple of weeks ago with a prayer at a county utilities workshop.

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