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County institutes burn ban

Tim Croft

Blustery winds and low humidity have provided a combustible mix amid already dry conditions.

A weekend wildfire near Overstreet scorched nearly 150 acres before it was contained.

Wildfires have destroyed nearly three dozen homes and put lives in peril in nearby Walton County.

According to County Commissioner Jimmy Rogers, the Florida Forest Service says the area needs 10 inches of rain before conditions improve sufficiently to be deemed “safe.”

And so, during a Tuesday emergency meeting that lasted all of three minutes, the Board of County Commissioners put in place a county-wide burn ban effective immediately.

Commissioners had approved a burn ban in late March but “we got some rain,” said Administrator Michael Hammond.

At the time, Hammond added, commissioners had received “blow-back” over the burn ban.

However, Hammond said, folks are going to have be patient until conditions improve.

“This is not something the board is overreacting to,” Hammond said. “This is something that is a real danger for people and property.”

The measure put in place Tuesday by the BOCC prohibits all outdoor burning unless permitted by the Florida Forest Service.

That includes burning of yard trash, household paper products, bonfires, campfires, warming fires, cooking fires and any other outdoor fire.

“It’s dry and there are a lot of downed trees (from Hurricane Michael),” Hammond said.

The ban also includes fireworks.

“Anything that might set the grass on fire,” he said.

The lone exception is cooking on a contained gas or charcoal grill.

The ban is in place until such time as the BOCC deems it safe to lift.

Hammond noted that none of the recent fires in the county were legal.

And local firefighters are feeling the heat.

For example, local units from several departments responded to the same site of last Saturday’s wildfire just a couple of weeks prior in response to another wildfire.

The April activity report for the Beaches Volunteer Fire Department shows a marked increase in activity along County 386.

“If we don’t get much-needed rain it may be a long month for Gulf County fire services,” said Capt. Jay Smith of the Beaches Volunteer Fire Department.