Mayor extends parks' burn ban to include smoking

September 16, 2011 8:11:29 PM PDT
The dangerous drought conditions prompted Mayor Annise Parker on Friday to sign an executive order extending the city's temporary burn ban to include smoking in Houston parks.

This ban is effective immediately. It's technically a local state of disaster being declared by Mayor Parker which outlaws smoking in every city park. The order affects more than 380 parks around Houston.

No one is allowed to burn anything, including lighted cigars, cigarettes, pipes or any other device used for the burning of tobacco or other plant material.

The Houston police and fire departments, even city park rangers, will now be able to issue citations to people who do not cooperate. They say they are now on high alert, looking for offenders.

"We're not going to hesitate to write these citations. We really take this seriously and we want people to understand the reasons these fires are starting are because of small sparks," Houston Fire Department Chief Terry Garrison said. "If we can eliminate this small spark, we have a better chance of not having these fires obviously."

Every citation is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of $500-$2,000. But they know they can't be everywhere, not in a city with nearly 39,000 acres of city park land. So they're asking you to call in if you see someone lighting up.

Some smokers say this is overkill.

"We got way more problems than a person smoking in a park," smoker Jonathan Shorten said.

Shorten suggests police officers should be doing something other than writing tickets for smoking.

"Catch the people that's actually doing something and leave us alone," he said.

But city leaders say the third leading cause of grassland fires is discarded smoking material. And the only thing that should be burning in city parks, authorities say, is the desire to use them.

Last week, Mayor Parker also banned the use of barbecue grills and all other outdoor burning in City parks during the ongoing drought.

The executive order for the burn bans will remain in effect until drought conditions improve. You can call 3-1-1 to report smoking or burning at a park near you.

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