Despite burn ban, Hillsborough offers fireworks an exemption

Hillsborough officials allow the sale of fireworks, despite a county burn ban.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Want to light a campfire? Nope. Not under Hillsborough County’s current burn ban.

And if you need to torch some debris on your own property, that's still prohibited, too.

But fireworks? No problem.

That decision, to exempt fireworks from the ban, was made Wednesday night by the County's Emergency Policy Group, and it's a decision that’s got critics all fired up.

“I would've voted no,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, “And I think that decision of whether or not to allow fireworks deserved a healthier discussion then what took place.”

Buckhorn says Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City all entrusted the county to make basic decisions for the rest of the Emergency Policy Group regarding the overall ban.

“But none of us knew that this issue of the fireworks sale was coming up,” said Buckhorn, “And they should've told us about it and let us come and participate.”

Tampa’s mayor wasn’t the only one blindsided.

“Obviously, I would recommend we not give a greenlight to the use of fireworks at this time,” said Tampa Fire Chief Tom Forward.

Forward says the city even canceled its own professional fireworks display this past weekend in Channelside.

Letting amateurs light their own displays is a potentially disastrous decision, he says. 

“All we need is one errand firework to go off in a highly vegetative area that at this point is conducive to fires starting,” said Chief Forward.

But fireworks retailers point to Forestry statistics which show fireworks haven’t been responsible for igniting any of the state’s thousands of fires over the past year.

“Show me any data that our product is going to cause any of these fires,” said Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, who owns Galaxy Fireworks.

Hunnewell-Johnson asked officials to grant the exception in-part to boost business, which has been a dud this season under the ban for her and an estimated 300 seasonal workers at those familiar roadside tents. 

“Well, if you can't use fireworks, what's the sense of buying fireworks? So even though they can purchase them, if you can't use them, they're not going to buy them,” she explained.

Critics, including Mayor Buckhorn, question whether that should have been given priority.

“It's been such a rash and, and we need to be smart about this. And not just cater to some companies' desire to make money,” said Buckhorn.

Pasco County says it's keeping an eye on the rainy forecast, but for now the ban remains in effect there.

In Pinellas County, most fireworks are against the law anyway. 

Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White called a July Fourth without fireworks un-American.

But critics says there's nothing patriotic about potentially starting an accidental fire.

If the region doesn’t receive the rainfall that's been in the forecast, board members say they can always revisit the issue before Independence Day.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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