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Fireworks ban ends as danger lessens

Although the county's ban is lifted, Brooksville's ban remains in effect.

By KATHERINE BLOK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- The County Commission passed an ordinance Tuesday rescinding a ban on the sale and use of fireworks.

The removal of the ban "is critical to the purveyors and users of fireworks" because it could have interfered with Independence Day, said County Attorney Garth Coller.

The Keetch-Byram drought index for the county has dropped to an average of 322, down from a high of 717 (on a scale of 0 to 800), and there is no longer a significant danger of small fires getting out of control, said Mike Nickerson, county director of fire services and chief of the Northwest Hernando Fire Department.

"If it stopped raining today, it would take a month to get back in the 600 range," Nickerson said. A drought index reading of 400 is when fires could become dangerous, he said.

Before making a recommendation to the county attorney's office that the ban be lifted, Nickerson said, he talked to all but two of the six other fire chiefs in the county, and they all agreed. Although Hernando and other coastal counties are no longer in a dangerous drought, many inland counties are still suffering, which is why Gov. Jeb Bush has not lifted the statewide emergency drought order, Nickerson said.

County Administrator Paul McIntosh stressed that the ban on burning brush would remain in effect.

McIntosh had recommended this month, when the county issued the ban on the sale of fireworks, that Brooksville follow the county's action. At its meeting Monday night, the City Council banned the sale and use of fireworks. However, some council members had reservations about the action, and council members Joe Johnston III and Vice Mayor Pat Brayton voted against the ban.

Johnston, Brayton and City Manager Richard Anderson said the ban would probably be lifted if the rains continue. Though the ban also applies to public fireworks displays, Brayton said the council is likely to make an exception if a group requests permission for a Fourth of July show.

Brooksville, as an incorporated city, has its own set of laws, and Hernando ordinances generally do not apply to the city.

Despite lifting the fireworks ban in Hernando, the county is still in a drought, Nickerson said, and there has not been enough rain to replenish the aquifer and other water sources.

Nickerson also said that people still need to take normal safety precautions when using fireworks, but that any small fires caused by fireworks should be easy to extinguish. Because of the rains, "a small fire will remain small," he said.

-- Times staff writer Dan DeWitt contributed to this report.

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