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Dry state forces counties, cities to consider restricting fireworks

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


County commissioners in Pinellas, Pasco and Citrus, spooked by wildfires caused by everything from cigarette butts to arsonists, will consider some type of ban today on the sale or use of fireworks.

Gov. Jeb Bush's office has not made any decisions regarding the statewide sale and use of fireworks. But with Independence Day fast approaching, local governments, encouraged in part by the Florida Fire Chiefs' Association, have begun to act.

Officials from Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City approved a ban on the sale and private use of fireworks last week. The ruling by the Executive Policy Group does not affect commercial fireworks shows. In Hernando County, residents can buy fireworks but cannot use them without a permit.

Pasco County Commissioners already had banned the private use of fireworks in April. At a meeting set for this evening, they plan to discuss banning the sale of fireworks, even though the Florida Fireworks Association has threatened to seek "full compensation" for lost revenue.

County commissioners say they may even make the ban effective for the large, professional displays popular on the Fourth of July that often are exempted from bans. In the east Pasco city of San Antonio, city commissioners are planning to discuss a ban at a meeting tonight. In Dade City and Zephyrhills, city officials say they expect to follow the county's lead.

County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said the parched state of Pasco's countryside has her worried. A wildfire is raging in the west side of the county and the Withlacoochee River is running dry on the east side.

"I know that fireworks are as American as apple pie, but when I see acreage and homes being destroyed or threatened, that's got to be the most frightening situation we can face," she said.

Fellow Pasco commissioners David "Hap" Clark, Pat Mulieri, Steve Simon and Sylvia Young agreed the county needs to snuff the sale of fireworks.

Citrus County commissioners will consider a proposal today that would ban the use, but not the sale, of fireworks, sparklers and flares in unincorporated areas of the county.

The proposal follows a decision by Inverness to cancel the July 3 Patriotic Evening because they said the fireworks display would be too dangerous.

Citrus County Public Safety Director Charles Poliseno said he had not received any complaints about the proposed fireworks ban and Commissioner Vicki Phillips said the drought has made such a ban necessary.

"I know people want to celebrate and use fireworks in July, but right now it's so important for the health and safety of the community that we forego it for a year," Phillips said.

Pinellas County commissioners Bob Stewart, Sallie Parks, Karen Seel and Barbara Sheen Todd say they will consider banning the sale and use of fireworks at this morning's meeting.

"Running around with sparklers, setting off firecrackers in the environment we're in, this tinderbox, is certainly not a good thing," Stewart said.

Commissioner Calvin Harris said he favors banning the use of fireworks but not the sale.

Fireworks industry representatives say that at least gives them a fighting chance because they still can sell items to people who live in areas where there is no ban.

"When you ban the sale, it basically immobilizes you from making any business decision," said Daniel Hunnewell, vice president of Galaxy Fireworks in Tampa.

The company took out a $1-million small-business loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1998 after wildfires persuaded Gov. Lawton Chiles to ban the sale and personal use of fireworks.

"To tie us into a drought-heat index, it's impossible to operate in that fashion," Hunnewell said.

-- Times staff writers Chase Squires, Bridget Hall and Wilma Norton contributed to this report.

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