MANATEE -- Homeowners are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who started a recent brush fire that rose into 6-foot flames on Jewfish Key.
The Oct. 14 fire reached within 100 yards of one of six homes on the key before 14 firefighters put it out, according to Longboat Key Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Rocky Parker.
Jewfish Key is a private island of 26 acres with a 13-acre common area, seven vacant undeveloped lots and no-trespass signs posted, said Renae Farrah, a Jewfish Key resident.
The fire was probably caused by an illegally trespassing camper who thought they put it out before they left but didn't realize the extreme flammability of embers from the packed Australian pine needles on the key, Farrah said Monday.
"There are many public parks nearby such as Coquina Beach that are equipped to deal with campers and camp fires," Farrah said. "Jewfish Key is not.
"We don't believe anyone is intentionally setting fires," Farrah said. "They start a campfire and put it out, but it is one of the most difficult fires to put out because the island is covered with pine needles that have packed on top of each other over years. The fire spreads laterally on the property and keeps going sideways before it builds up into flames. It literally creeps through the pine mulch and you don't know it's there. It's very insidious."
Jewfish Key is about a half-mile long and 400-foot wide at its widest. It is off the Manatee County mainland, about one-eighth of a mile out from the southern end of Coquina Beach and the northern end of Longboat Key.
Jewfish Key is under the jurisdiction of Longboat Key, which sends police, fire and medical to the island when needed.
There are no standard fire hydrants so some residents have floating hydrant pumps to use in case of fire, Farrah said.
Farrah, who purchased her home in 2003, said the persistence of fire on Jewfish Key was demonstrated by her groundskeeper, who discovered 10 smoking embers Oct. 16, two days after firefighters thoroughly doused the blaze.
Firefighters had to make a return trip, Farrah said.
"I do believe we would have had another fire from those 10 spots," Farrah said.
Those with information on who set the fire are asked to call Crime Stoppers at 941-366-TIPS (8477) or email Islandgirlscs@aol.com with tips.
Pat Roberts, a Jewfish Key homeowner since 1992, said island homeowners have seen an increasingly blatant disregard for their property over the past few years.
Roberts blames the sand bar that runs beside the key and attracts scores of boaters.
"There are so many boats out there on weekends that it looks like a used boat sales lot," Roberts said. "They are drinking, playing music and bringing their dogs to do their business in the yards of my neighbors. They have no respect for anyone. They defecate on lawns."
Roberts said a decade ago there were boats, but not near the number or size of today.
Roberts hopes authorities take away the Jewfish Key sand bar for the next beach renourishment, and distribute it on a nearby beach.
Farrah, however, defends the boaters. She believes campers are a different group.
"The boaters are not our problem," Farrah said. "They are enjoying the water and they stroll on the sandbar. I think they have that right. Our problems are the people who tie up their boats and actually come on the island and start campfires. I think these people don't know they can be arrested and possibly face criminal charges for reckless endangering property or lives."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or via Twitter @ RichardDymond