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Counties taking action to halt fireworks sales

[Times photo: Pam Royal]
Debbie Lewis, an employee at Galaxy Fireworks on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa, chats with a friend in the empty store after the company locked its doors as a result of Friday's fireworks ban in Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough enacts a ban Friday. Other counties are considering them. Some say bans may be an overreaction.

By DAVID BALLINGRUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000


With dangerous fires continuing to dot the dry Florida landscape and the sky still free of rain clouds, some local governments are snuffing out Fourth of July fireworks.

Hillsborough County banned the sale and use of fireworks on Friday, and Pinellas, Pasco and Citrus counties will consider bans next week. Restrictions are already in place in Hernando County.

Some state officials, however, said the bans might be an overreaction.

"Any potential ignition is a serious matter," said Jim Brenner of the state Division of Forestry. "But 99 times out of 100, the beginning of the rainy season will end the fire season. The forecast still calls for rain in June, and we're beginning to see some in the southern part of the state."

Problems associated with severe drought persisted Friday.

A series of accidents caused by smoke from two wildfires closed Interstate 95 for 14 miles in Central Florida Friday. One person was killed. At least 14 vehicles, many of them trucks, were involved in five separate accidents, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

"This is going to be screwed up for some time," said Lt. Chuck Williams, an FHP spokesman.

Here's a look at what officials in the Tampa Bay area are doing:

Hillsborough County: Officials from Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City unanimously approved a ban on the sale and private use of all fireworks. The Executive Policy Group, led by County Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank, voted 7-0 to immediately enact a seven-day ban. The ruling does not affect commercial fireworks shows, such as one planned for June 10 in Plant City. The ban remains in effect for one week. The group must vote every seven days to keep it in effect.

"We can see that conditions are beyond our control, and we understand that policy has to be made," said Dan Hunnewell, vice president of Galaxy Fireworks. "But we think it should be applied to the use of the product, not the sale.

"If fire protection is the goal, then cigarettes should be attached to the ban, too," he said, "and there should be a ban on the display shows of municipalities."

Galaxy operates more than 70 sales tents in the state, 30 in Hillsborough County. The company sued to prevent a similar ban in 1998. Hunnewell said that suit is pending and he did not know how it might affect the current ban.

Pinellas County: On Tuesday, county fire chiefs will recommend that county commissioners pass an ordinance banning the sale, use or discharge of fireworks and sparklers.

The recommendation made unanimously Thursday by members of Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association does not include canceling organized Fourth of July fireworks.

"That would be up to each municipality to make that decision," said Largo fire Chief E. Caroll Williams.

Richard Orange, fire coordinator for Pinellas County's Emergency Medical Services and Fire Administration said the ban could be lifted if it begins to rain. "This is not an absolute," he said.

Williams said he will recommend on Tuesday that Largo commissioners cancel the city's fireworks show planned in Largo Central Park. "We're not shooting over water," he said. "We're shooting over a field,"

Randy Hinder, Clearwater's deputy chief fire marshal, said the city will hold its Fourth of July show at Coachman Park because the fireworks are discharged from a barge in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Dunedin has scrubbed its show. Tarpon Springs has not.

Pasco County: Commissioners plan to discuss Tuesday whether to ban the sale of fireworks or wait and let the state take the lead, said County Administrator John Gallagher. The county adopted an emergency ordinance in April that banned the use of fireworks until the area sees significant rain, but it did not address sales.

Citrus County: The commission on Tuesday will consider a ban on the use of fireworks, flares and sparklers until the drought eases. The ordinance would not affect the sale of fireworks.

Hernando County: Residents can buy fireworks but they can't use them without a permit. The County Commission banned the use of any explosives or incendiary devices that might cause wildfires as part of its emergency drought ordinance adopted in late March. Commissioners have not decided what they will do about July 4.

"I would assume at this point we will" have official fireworks, County Administrator Paul McIntosh said.

While firefighters were getting the upper hand on several large fires around the state Friday, smaller fires sprouted in all of Florida's 15 Division of Forestry districts. Firefighters were able to control most of them, said Matt Weinell, a spokesman for the forestry division.

"If we can get them while they're small, we can keep them small," Weinell said.

Fires continued to burn in Highland, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Putnam and Sarasota counties. A 6,250-acre fire that has been burning for several weeks in Sarasota County is 50 percent contained and no longer threatening homes or highways.

On Wednesday, the Florida Fire Chiefs Association encouraged Bush to enact a statewide ban on the sale and use of fireworks. Such an order was passed by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998.

-- Times staff writers Alisa Ulferts, Linda Gibson, Joe Humphrey, Jeffrey S. Solochek, Bridget Hall, Maureen Byrne and Chuck Murphy contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was also used.

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