County commissioners have imposed a burn ban through the entire county.
At Tuesday morning’s county meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to order the protective measure in the face of very dry conditions, low humidity and prevalent winds. The current ban uses language from a similar ordinance passed in 2007.
The ordinance, passed Tuesday declares a drought emergency in the county and forbids the use of “open fires and outdoor burning devices/” All burning of yard debris is prohibited; violators can be subject to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
Not outlawed under the ordinance are “above ground self-contained cooking grills attended to by responsible adults,” which includes the use of charcoal briquettes which must be extinguished with water after use.
Fireworks are prohibited with the exception of public fireworks displays sponsored or regulated by a fire district or municipality of Franklin County. Also exempt under the ordinance is waste disposal at the county landfill.
St. George Island Fire Chief Jay Abbott did not attend the meeting but asked County RESTORE liaison Alan Pierce to tell the board he supported a fire ban on the island.
Ken Clizbe, who said he is a volunteer firefighter on Alligator Point, asked the board to declare a ban there as well. He said off-duty firefighters had witnessed visitors with beach fires over the last week, and in some cases, had asked that the fire be extinguished.
“If we implement fire ban on the island and something happens on the mainland how do we look?” Chair Smokey Parrish said. “I think we should implement a ban for whole county. It’s been dry everywhere. For last two weeks there’s been wind everywhere. Things can change. It won’t remain implemented forever.”
County Attorney Michael Shuler said the county must review conditions every seven days.
“To me that’s part of our job. We should be willing to meet every seven days if needed,” Parrish said.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders instructed county staff to announce the ban on the county website and on the radio and to notify all county fire departments of the ban.
At the same meeting, Pierce reviewed the protocol for declaring a ban. He said the state fire marshal’s office has told him that it has nothing to do with issuing fire bans, or even determining if one is appropriate.
“The Florida Forest Service does not issue bans outright, but they control burning by not issuing burn permits, (so) if conditions are severe and broad based, the Florida Forest Service might put out a notice that burn permits are not being issued. The Florida Forest Service does not regulate such things as outdoor grilling,” Pierce said.
“If those are an issue, then the local government must determine if such a ban is necessary and then issue said ban. The Florida Forest Service is ready to assist a local government in determining the types of bans that might be appropriate for a certain set of conditions,” he said.
According to Pierce, county commissioners vote to impose a local fire ban, then the county emergency management office is responsible for sending out the notice. The local volunteer fire departments, local law enforcement, and forestry personnel are all authorized to assist in enforcement.
The request for a local fire ban can come from the Division of Forestry, any local fire department, or be the creation of the county board itself, but the approval and establishment of penalties of a local fire ban is the authority of the county commission and no one else.