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Westchase Smells Smoke; County Burn Ban Still in Place

Westchase residents who emerged from their homes on May 9 to the heavy smell of smoke encountered the most recent reminder of the active wildfire season currently plaguing the state.

The smoke is likely drifting south from a smoldering wildfire that has scorched nearly 2,300 acres of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve at the juncture of State Road 54 and the Suncoast Expressway just north of Hillsborough County's border with Pasco County.

Meanwhile, in Thonotosassa in northeast Hillsborough County, another wildfire has scorched more than 200 acres of Flatwoods Park, shutting down I75 for several hours on May 6.

Due to an exceptionally dry winter and early spring – evident in Westchase’s shrinking ponds – the Florida Forest Service currently lists all of Hillsborough County at high risk of wildfire danger and nearby Pinellas and Pasco Counties at very high risk of wildfire.

Thus far, nearly a quarter million acres of Florida’s state and federal lands had been torched by wildfire this year.

In response to the extremely dry conditions, on April 27, Hillsborough County announced a burn ban which was extended through May 9. On May 9 the county’s Emergency Policy Group is expected to meet and extend the ban another week. In addition to declaring a local state of emergency, the burn ban prohibits all outdoor open burning except as allowed by the Florida Forest Service. The order banned the use of all fireworks and sparklers and led to the cancellation of a fireworks display in downtown Tampa over the weekend of May 7.

Under the ban, outdoor grilling is allowed if flames are contained within a grill or other fireproof container, and the fire is constantly attended and extinguished fully.

Significant rain is not expected until the start of Florida's rainy season, which typically kicks off in mid-June.

According to the Florida Forest Service, the vast majority of wildfires are caused by humans, either through arson or carelessness. Residents who smoke should refrain from discarding lit cigarettes out vehicle windows as they are traveling along county roads.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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