Police see lit cigarette as loaded weapon in statewide drought
Some police agencies in Illinois are on higher alert to watch out for drivers who toss lit cigarettes out the window. The action violates state law, and it poses a serious fire hazard in light of the statewide drought. (Getty…)
At least one local police agency is following the Indiana State Police's lead on cigarette disposal amid this summer's drought conditions.
Lake County sheriff's police Chief Wayne Hunter said Indiana's heavy enforcement on discarded cigarettes inspired him to alert his officers today of a "zero tolerance" stance on cigarettes thrown from car windows.
"We're also planning to reach out to Lake County residents so they're aware there's a traffic law against this," Hunter said. "We want everyone to be sensitive to the drought conditions when depositing lit cigarettes."
Hunter said improper cigarette disposal is a violation of the Illinois Litter Control Act and is punishable by a fine of up to $1,500. Indiana law is even more specific — drivers who throw a lit cigarette, cigar, match or other burning material from a moving vehicle can be fined up to $10,000.
Lake County is one of the most vulnerable areas of the state for potential fires, State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis said.
State police spokeswoman Monique Bond said police have been on "heightened alert" since early July to watch for anything that could create hazardous, fire-related conditions. Bond said increased police patrols are expected through the summer months.
Kane County police Lt. Pat Gengler said dry weather coupled with the county's vast farmland has prompted him to remind officers to pay specific attention to possible fire-related hazards, which include fireworks and smoldering materials like cigarettes.
According to last week's update by the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Illinois is in a drought, with at least two-thirds of the state suffering "severe" drought conditions. About 80 percent of Indiana is listed in severe drought. A new update is expected to be released Thursday morning.
Eddie Bain, program director for the Illinois Fire Service Institute, said a smoldering cigarette might seem like an innocent piece of trash, but the state's drought status has firefighters wary.
"There's always a possibility of fire any time you have an open flame, but the potential for uncontrolled fires is very, very high right now," Bain said. "Cigarettes can cause wildfires along state, county and even local roads."
Improperly extinguished cigarettes were to blame for a brush fire that destroyed 10 acres of grass and marshland at Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Cook County earlier this year. The fire took more than 50 firefighters about six hours to put out.
In late June, a discarded cigarette was to blame for a 100-acre fire that ravaged dry brush in far downstate Saline County.