FILE: This file photo shows that a big fire flared over the weekend at the MW Horticulture’s site off Thomas Road Oct. 22, 2018. Photo via WINK News.
FILE: This file photo shows that a big fire flared over the weekend at the MW Horticulture’s site off Thomas Road Oct. 22, 2018. Photo via WINK News.

Company reprimanded for horticulture fire violations

AJ TeoFrio is a typical teenager who loves playing lacrosse in the front yard of his family’s Island Park home.

“I play defense mostly,” TeoFrio said.

Not so typical is what his family said is seeping into the neighborhood for nearly a year now: smoke.

“Every so often,” Dawn McDonald said, “it’ll be so thick that you just don’t want to be outside.”

The thick smoke is a problem for people of all ages. But especially for children who may be outside for multiple hours, playing sports.

“I was on the way to my friend’s house,” TeoFrio said, “and there was a big fire right there.”

The big fire flared over the weekend at the MW Horticulture’s site off Thomas Road.

Denise Houghtaling, vice president of MW Horticulture Recycling, places the blame on the county for the South Fort Myers flare.

“They want us to haul it to our south yard, which we’re standing in now, which will cause another fire,” Houghtaling said.

MW Horticulture Recycling transported the debris to South Fort Myers from the company’s North Fort Myers location. It maintains, at the county’s request.

In North Fort Myers, they have stored Hurricane Irma debris. It was ordered to move it instead of grinding it up. But MW Horticulture Recycling said moving it is what is causing the county’s rash of fires.

“They told us to haul it out and that’s why we did,” Houghtaling said. “That’s why we’ve had three fires in the last three weeks.”

Yet, the county gave WINK News a statement, which said MW Horticulture Recycling knew from the beginning grinding the debris would not be permissible. It made over $750,000 for taking in Hurricane Irma debris.

But Houghtaling told WINK News that her company lost money — keeping up with the fires that are now spreading across the county.

For families who want to play outside, but smoke is an “almost an everyday thing,” they will have to wait. The county and the company are still waiting on the hearing examiner’s decision about what to do with the piles.

I’m just waiting for someone in whatever department to try to get it repaired,” Dawn McDonald said. “So what do you do?”

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Michael Mora
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