Fireworks exemption to burn ban a dangerous decision, says Tampa Fire Chief

Fireworks banned across much of Tampa Bay Area
Posted at 6:30 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 18:32:33-04

Despite the ongoing drought, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted this week to allow the use of fireworks.

Tampa's Fire Chief calls that a dangerous decision.

"This has been one of the most horrendous wild land fire seasons that Florida has had," explains Chief Thomas Forward to ABC Action News. "In my 34 years, I have not experienced anything as bad as we've had this year."

Several of Chief Forward's firefighters have been helping other local fire departments with their ongoing wildfire issues, and says, in general, the wildfire season is severely taxing the state's emergency responders.

"All we need is one errant firework to go off in a highly vegetative area that, at this point, is conducive to fire start and fire spread," adds Chief Forward, who says he would like to see the County Commissioners re-consider their decision.

But not everyone thinks the Commissioners made a poor choice.

"Our phones were not ringing for the help to come in to run the locations, as far as staffing our show rooms and getting everything prepared," explains Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, the President of Galaxy Fireworks in Tampa.

Hunnewell-Johnson says hundreds of people, including seasonal workers, church groups and non-profits, make money during the Summer season selling fireworks in tents all over the Tampa Bay Area.

She tells ABC Action News that people have been scared off from selling so far this year because of unnecessary concerns about a fireworks ban, "even though the rains will be coming and it should be safe for the Fourth of July to light up fireworks,"  she adds.

What's more, fireworks are not a main cause of wildfires.

Just 15 of Florida's 2,173 state-monitored wildfires were caused by fireworks so far in 2017, according to data collected by the Florida Forest Service's online Reporting System.

Hunnewell-Johnson believes fireworks are unfairly targeted just because they have the word "fire" in them.

"We need to change our name to Fun Works," she jokes.

Most other Tampa Bay Area counties still include fireworks in their current burn bands, including Pinellas County, Polk County and Pasco County.