Fire was on the minds of the Prince George's County Council this week in such various forms as cross-burnings, sparklers and cigarettes.
The county council banned and set stiff penalties for cross-burnings in the county, prohibited smoking in the council hearing room, and banned the use and possessin of sparklers except in authorized displays.
Councilman Floyd E. Wilson Jr. said the cross-burning bill will "squash this act from the community. There were 21 instances of it last year. There is no question as to its absolute necessity."
The bill increases the penalties for violations of the prohibition to 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine. State law requires 90 days or $500.
Council chairman William B. Amonett said, "Some of this is as a result of youngsters and foolish pranks. This bill is to take care of other, deliberate and very serious actions of burning in the county."
Earlier, council members watched a demonstration of danger from another sort of fire - sparklers - before voting unanimously to ban them, along with firecrackers, rockets, roman candles and any other combustibles known as fireworks.
Capt. Bill Godwin of the Fire Department waved a lighted sparkler around three shirts and a dress on the county administration building veranda, mimicking a child at play. All but one item of clothing ignited and the burned remains illustrated a point he had made in testimony at a public hearing held before the vote.
"A sparkler provides absolutely no social redeeming value for a child to be playing with fire, but does provide any child or person with an extremely hot, burning, sharp missile that can cause accidental and permanent injury," he said.
Earlier the council had prohibited the use of tobacco products in the council hearing room. Comments by some council members indicated they feel the same hazards attributed to sparklers could be applied to cigarettes as well.
"We realize this is an inconvenience to those who smoke quite a bit," said Parris N. Glendening, a non-smoker. "But beyond that, the non-smoker has more health problems that the smoker because ot it. We sit here with our eyves watering because the smoke is so bad sometimes."
Francis W. White, one of the heaviest smokers on the council, made an impassioned plea against the ban. "This is my work station. I am expected to spend many hours here. We don't regulate smoking in anyone else's work space."
White even proposed a glass enclosure be built for him and the other smokers at the side of the hearing room. But it didn't work. The bill passed and White was sent off to "nicotine alley," the area just outside the hearing room where smoking is still allowed.