SEBRING – By a unanimous vote, County Commissioners on Tuesday approved an emergency ban on outdoor burning in Highlands County.
About 1,600 acres have burned in wildfires this year, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.
As the ordinance was originally written, the seven-day ban would have included all outdoor burning without a permit, excluding charcoal and gas grills.
“If we decide to extend that, we have to meet here again next week?” Commissioner Don Elwell asked. “OK, so we’ll have a 45-second meeting on Tuesday. That will need to be (publicly advertised) by at least Friday.”
The county might as well publish that notice Tuesday, Elwell said. “There’s no rain in the forecast.”
Why not extend the proposed ban now, Commissioner Ron Handley asked.
By ordinance, the county can only declare the ban in seven-day increments, County Attorney Ross Macbeth replied. However, Macbeth suggested, commissioners could ban all burning – even fires that are not covered under the statute – under an emergency order.
“That only makes sense,” Commissioner Jim Brooks said. “We all know this will continue.”
Florida Forest Service supervisor Joe DeBree provided a copy of an ordinance just adopted in Glades County, and Macbeth worked through the four-hour meeting to modify that ordinance.
Commissioner Greg Harris suggested the county not allow any burns, even by the state forestry department. “I don’t care who you are, we’re not going to issue any permits.”
The county can’t prevent a state agency from issuing a controlled burn permit, Commissioner Jim Brooks said.
“But we suffer the consequences,” Harris said, referring to a Valentine’s Day controlled burn northwest of State Road 70 and U.S. 27 that resulted in a still-burning muck fire.
“How often does that happen?” Brooks countered.
The forestry department now has access to water from canals, so within a month, the muck fire may be out, DeBree said. And, he added, the county doesn’t want to forbid controlled burns. For instance, citrus growers need to burn diseased trees, or they will have more problems later.
It’s easier for a county to pass an emergency burn ban, then rescind it when the rainy season starts, DeBree said.
“Will this stop yard burning as well?” Handley asked.
“Whatever is in your ordinance,” DeBree said.