Barbecue smoke debate goes viral

Pinellas County Air Quality found itself in the unusual position of having to state the obvious Monday: "There is no ban, absolutely no ban on backyard grilling in Pinellas County and no fines or citations have been issued" division manager Ajaya Satyal told FOX 13 News. 

A cell phone video posted on Facebook last week invited the clarification, more than 4 million clicks and numerous re-postings later. 

The viral video shows a calm but strained conversation between an air quality inspector and a St. Petersburg homeowner. 

"I am simply suggesting that it appears from my observation of your site here that you have smoke leaving -- that's prohibited," the inspector tells the homeowner. The citizen points to a neighbor's house and asks, "did you see smoke over there?" and the inspector repeats, "I saw smoke leaving your property."

"Yeah that's me," Chris Matt confirmed Monday afternoon. "I've been harassed and I'm just trying to cook for my family."  He shares a home with his brother Dwayne Matt, and both have been the subject of numerous complaints by neighbor Sue Godfirnon. 

In an April 2014 email to county officials Godfirnon said, "I am a cancer patient and have asthma. This smoke has been making me very sick." In that email she claimed the Matt brothers had fired up their grills 27 times in the previous 52 days. "Breathing this smoke has raised my blood pressure to stroke levels at times... This smoke is literally killing me," she wrote.

Satyal hopes for a peaceful resolution.  "We will try to resolve this issue by working with the homeowner, we'll reach out to the homeowner again," he explained. 

Dwayne Matt did not offer any encouragement for that approach. "Not really concerned about what somebody else thinks about my cooking," he explained. "I don't see that I'm doing anything wrong." 

The county is also not the first referee. "The police, the neighborhood association, fire department, codes enforcement," are also on the list of intervenes according to the brothers. 

Last year the city of St. Petersburg fined the Matts for parking a commercial grill on a trailer in their driveway. That was removed and county enforcement photos now show two large grills in the Matt's backyard. 

Godfirnon has also filed a civil lawsuit against the Matt brothers.