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Fourth of July regains sparkle

The county ends its recent fireworks ban as much-needed rain reduces the fire danger.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


INVERNESS -- The Fourth of July weekend as we know it is back on track, thanks to some much-needed rain and the efforts of local merchants.

County officials have ended the ban on the use of fireworks, saying recent rains have made it safer to shoot sparks into the sky.

The county's drought index was a desert-like 727 on an 800-point scale when the County Commission passed the fireworks ban June 6, but showers over the weekend brought the county's drought index down to 261, according to the Division of Forestry.

"The bottom line is, assuming we continue to have normal rainfall for this time of the year, we should be all right for the Fourth of July," County Administrator Gary Kuhl said.

A proposed fireworks ban within Inverness city limits, which the City Council is scheduled to consider today, is also no longer necessary, City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said.

"Of course, the decision is up to the council," he said. "But the conditions today are far different than they were a week ago (when DiGiovanni proposed the ban), and I don't know that we need to do this."

The fireworks ban that the Crystal River City Council tentatively passed last week has not taken effect. Still awaiting legal advice on the measure, Mayor Curtis Rich has not signed it. Crystal River officials are also holding out hope that their July 4 festival, complete with fireworks display, can go on as planned.

DiGiovanni said it is too late for Inverness city officials to resurrect the July 3 Patriotic Evening, an event that was canceled several weeks ago because officials feared it would be too dangerous to launch the fireworks display in bone-dry conditions.

But the New Inverness Olde Towne Association is putting together another festival that will have everything but the fireworks, association president Winston Perry said.

The Courthouse Square's Uncle Sam Jam 2000 Celebration, which will run from 5 to 11 p.m. July 3, will feature a children's bike parade, patriotic face- and nail-painting, watermelon eating contests, a live broadcast from the 102.7 FM Fun Oldies radio station, sidewalk sales outside the downtown shops, and a program of songs and speeches about Independence Day.

The non-profit groups that normally sell food at the Patriotic Evening will be on hand for this event to sell hot dogs, ice cream, popcorn, lemonade and more, Perry said.

Perry said he hopes the event will draw thousands of people into the downtown area around the historic courthouse.

"The city did the right thing (by canceling the Patriotic Evening) because of the fire potential, but they decided to cancel everything," Perry said. "We felt this was an opportunity for the New Inverness Olde Towne Association to give something back to the community, and give people a reason to come downtown and enjoy some good food and good music."

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