Pasco Fires Shift Some Schools, Trigger Fines

May 9, 2017

It's been hot and dry and it's peak wildfire season in Florida. That's a point drawn home to the families who live near River Ridge Middle School and High School. They are close enough to the big fire in Starkey Wilderness Preserve that the campuses were cloaked in smoke yesterday.

That is why Pasco School Superintendent Kurt Browning decided to push back the schedule for those two schools, which are opening at 10:45 in the morning and ending the school day late in the afternoon for the rest of this week.

Browning says he doesn’t want students to miss out on instructional time this late in the school year, which might force make up days.

“At this point we are within the number of minutes and hours statutorily. That's why I looked at that shifted school day so we get our hours in, instructional time for our students.  But if we take another day, we're going to be pushing the envelope,” Browning said.

Browning said the district will keep parents updated with its "school connects calls" and on twitter and Facebook. 

Despite the ban on outdoor burning in much of the region, Shawn Whited of Pasco Fire says they still get calls every day, about people burning trash or burning leaves in the rural part of the county, a common practice. But ignorance of the burn ban won’t work for long. He said if Pasco Fire must respond to the same residence repeatedly, the sheriff’s department will be called to take over, which may result in a fine for violating the burn ban. And recently levied fines have run from $500 to nearly $15,000 dollars.

“Now, once we fine you, we can tack on the response for our service. The water, the fire trucks, the manpower and all that, that big fine ($15,000) was a reimbursement fine,” Whited said.

Camping, hiking and biking trails are all closed in the Starkey Wilderness Park until this Thursday. 

Pasco authorities are asking people to keep their low beam headlights on day and night because of the smoky conditions. 

Driving can be a particular challenge in smoky conditions, especially if there is fog as well. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol says if you should ever experience vertigo from the loss of depth perception while driving in smoke, rolling your window down will help alleviate that. But he said it’s critical in such times as these, to avoid distraction while behind the wheel.

“In the early morning hours, typically depending on the terrain you're in as well, you may come to a low point in the terrain, so that visibility may drop rapidly,” Gaskins said.

Gaskins says if you ever come to a point where the conditions are so bad that you can't see the road in front of you, pull off to the shoulder and put your hazards on. And if you need to, get out of your car and take yourself far away from the road.  He says watch for special road warnings in areas affected by the fires.