Where there's a fire, there's smoke

Getting a clear picture of the events that led up to the fire in the Citrus County landfill overnight on Saturday is a bit like trying to see through the smoke itself.

What the public has been told is that "a trash fire", ignited by someone (but we don't know who), eventually grew, apparently unnoticed, until it licked the side of the landfill and ate into the landfill's liner in the Phase III area.

County commissioners were told on Tuesday by Public Works Director Ken Frink that the fire was spotted by the Sheriff's Office's helicopter, and that the CCSO police dispatch then called Solid Waste Director Casey T. Stephens to tell him the "landfill was on fire," as Frink put it. Stephens then called Frink.

Frink said he asked Fire Chief Larry Morabito to contact the State Fire Marshal to investigate the cause of the fire. The fire marshal investigated, and determined there was no wrongdoing, Frink said, and the marshal also theorized that a "trash fire" had worked its way up the landfill liner slope in that area.

And that was the end of the explanation. The next request Frink and Stephens made to the county commission was to ask for money (not to exceed $25,000) for an engineering firm to determine how much more money it will take to fix the area damaged by the fire. This is bad news during strained economic times, and means money will have to come from somewhere, and that can't be good news for the county budget, already hard-hit by cuts and shrinking ad valorem revenues.

Hopefully, the county won't have to look under the cushions on its financial couch to find the loose change sufficient to pay for the damage.

Throughout Frink's briefing, county commissioners showed an astounding lack of curiosity about the circumstances surrounding the fire, and instead confined themselves to questions related to possible inconvenience to the public and the extent of damage done to the landfill's liner and leachate collection control equipment.

The explanation left, in our view, a number of unanswered questions, and taken as a whole, was a bit like the Exodus story in which Aaron, when asked by Moses why he built the Golden Calf, said, "Well, I put the gold in the fire, and out popped this calf."

It's difficult to connect dots when there's so much smoke. Perhaps its easier just to close your eyes and hope the smoke of truth doesn't sting them. Surely, the county has not created its own political landfill where it dumps its own responsibility into some smoldering pit, but rather, actually cares how all this happened, and wants to take procedural steps to keep it from happening again?

The county seems to have washed its hands of any internal investigative responsibility for the matter, because outside investigation was already done for them. After all, the trash fire that eventually ate one side of the landfill liner appeared miraculously, untended by humans, and just "popped out" of nowhere. Perhaps a fiery terrorist with a Molotov Cocktail lobbed one over the landfill fence. But, Wait! That can't be! There was no wrongdoing.

Perhaps the trash fire was started by a mysterious burning shrub - but, more likely, it was not.

It was started by someone, somewhere, sometime. Further, it was allowed to burn as it wanted. And nobody apparently monitored it, and it grew as it wished because, it could be argued, no one cared enough to be sure the fire was out. If taxpayers took that attitude when burning their trash, and the woods caught on fire, you can bet the county would be on them with a ticket, like a fly on stink.

But when the county allows a fire to get out of control, there's no ticket - only smoke, and a bill for taxpayers to pay for the damages.

And $25 per year on their tax bills to ensure the county runs the landfill responsibly.