Our amazingly dry weather has forced police to target a key demographic of smokers. After all, it's believed a great number of field fires across St. Joseph County and beyond have been sparked by improperly tossed cigarettes.
According to anti-litter organization Keep America Beautiful, despite many cars being equipped with an ashtray, 65-percent of cigarettes never make it into the trash. What's worse, cigarette butts account for 38-percent of all roadway litter in the U.S., a figure NewsCenter 16 can personally attest to.
On Wednesday morning, reporter Kevin Lewis set out to collect cigarettes at the southwest corner of State Road 933 and Angela Blvd. Within 35 minutes alone, he found 1570 smokes lying in the street, sidewalk and grass area.
According to St. Joseph County Fire Dispatch, emergency crews have responded to at least ten field fires this June, all believed to have been caused by littered cigarettes.
"Even if you think your cigarette is probably not going to be the one that lights a field, just throw it in the trash or in an ashtray. That way you can be 100% sure that your cigarette will not be the one that starts the grass on fire,” Clay Fire Territory Fire Marshal Dave Cherrone said.
In response, St. Joseph County Police have stepped-up patrols, issuing fines of $125.50 per improper disposal offense.
"Just here where we're at on Cleveland Road, you throw a cigarette out thinking nothing could happen, next thing you know the field is on fire and then you have buildings and residential areas close by that could potentially catch on fire as well,” St. Joseph County Police Sgt. Bill Redman.
And penalties are worse in Michigan where smoking violators can be jailed for up to 90 days.
"No matter how many times you've done it before, just stop now and use the ashtray. Save people the worry and work of catching something on fire that you could definitely help prevent,” Cherrone concluded.