An unusually dry period between December and May has led to a large deficit in rainfall in the West Pasco area, directly contributing to a large number of wildfires in Pasco County alone–most caused by humans with lit cigarettes one of the primary causes, according to the Florida Forest Service. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) announced a “Phase I Water Shortage Declaration” on Monday, prompting local governments to review lawn and garden watering schedules, and to urge residents to conserve water where possible.
Three schools were closed in the Eastern New Port Richey on Monday due to large amounts of smoke on school campuses. River Ridge Middle School, River Ridge High School, and Cypress Park Elementary all closed, putting parents on edge.
Starkey Park has been closed to the public since the first week of May and will remain closed until at least May 11 because of large wildfires that have burned more than 2,500 acres. Officials now say that the fire is 75% contained, but crews continue to work in the park and have solicited donations from the public of pre-packaged, non-perishable snacks and bottled water. Residents are being warned that smoky conditions could continue over the next 30-45 days due to smoldering fires.
Pasco County Fire Officials have said that the public at large is “not making our jobs any easier” and that they have received more than 500 calls due to violations of the County-wide burn ban put in place in response to the drought conditions by the Pasco County Board of Commissioners. The ban prohibits open flames, burning of debris or trash, and fireworks. Violating the ban could carry a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
Dry conditions may continue through the next two weeks, with a 40% chance of rain this Saturday.