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Man cited for illegal burn that sparked brush fire

Forestry officials: Follow rules for safely burning yard debris

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man whose trash fire sparked a small brush fire on the Westside has been cited for illegal burning, according to the Florida Forest Service.

Forestry officials said Donald Gray was issued a notice of violation and is being forced to pay the amount it cost to put out the flames.

Officials said Gray, who owns a mobile home on Dusty Road, admitted that he was burning household items in an outdoor fire pit and that he left the fire unattended. That's when an ember sparked a small brush fire that shot flames 30 feet into the air.

Gray and his wife and their 2-year-old daughter made it out of the home safely after neighbors alerted them to the fire.

"They said it was an accident. He was burning boxes, and he thought the fire was out, and he went back in to cook, and it wasn't out," neighbor Linda Daniels said.

Daniels said the flames came within 100 feet of her house and threatened the entire neighborhood where the land is bone dry.

Firefighters were called to the home on Dusty Road about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday because of the brush fire, which burned about 0.2 acres before firefighters with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and Florida Forest Service were able to douse the flames.

Firefighters used two tanker trucks to pour 6,000 gallons of water on the area and were able to control the fire within 20 minutes. Florida Forest Service helped put out the remaining hot spots nearby.

Firefighters said even the smallest spark or ember can erupt into a major brush fire. Daniels said the entire neighborhood learned a lesson Wednesday night.

"We have our little bonfires out here in the back sometimes, but I won't ever have another one," Daniels said.

Forestry Division spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter said Gray is being fined $150. That's the amount of money firefighters estimate it cost to put out the blaze, which could have grown and destroyed neighbors' houses, if it wasn't for the quick response time.

"We issued a notice of violation, letting that individual know that they are in violation," Winter said. "You have to maintain that burn at all times."

Duval County has a standing ban against outdoor burning. Officials with the Florida Forest Service said in places where outdoor burning is allowed, landowners are responsible for keeping any debris burn contained and must follow safe burning rules.

"The fuel, the forest, the vegetation is just ready to burn," Forestry Division spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter said. "It doesn't take long for it to get off into the forest and cause a wildfire."  

DOCUMENT: Know the law for yard burning

Yard debris includes grass clippings, brush, leaves, tree limbs, palm fronds, etc. that are a result of yard maintenance. It is illegal to burn household garbage, including paper products, officials said.

They said rules for safe burning are:

  • Clear down to bare soil around your pile to prevent it from spreading
  • Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it is out before you leave
  • Keep a shovel and water hose handy
  • The fire must be ignited after 9 a.m. and extinguished one hour before sunset to minimize smoke
  • Don't burn on windy days or when the humidity is below 35 percent
  • Your fire must be contained to an 8-foot diameter pile or non-combustible barrel and must be at least 25 feet from forests, 25 feet from your house, 50 feet from a paved public road and 150 feet from other occupied buildings
  • Burning yard waste does not require an authorization from the Florida Forest Service, but you should check with your local city, county or Florida Forest Service officials to see if there are any restrictions in your area

May and June are the driest part of the year in Florida and under the current drought conditions, it is best to find alternative methods to dispose of yard debris, forestry officials said.

The drought index right now in Northern Florida is in the 700s. An 800 drought index means there are desert-like conditions. 

Current Active Wildfires in Northeast Florida