Shortages, fire dangers snuff out July 4 firework displays

(NewsNation) — Fourth of July fireworks are an annual tradition — but also a yearly concern, especially for states in the West facing drought conditions, which are prime for sparking wildfires.

Given the historic heat wave and record drought across much of the U.S., fireworks this year could pose the biggest threat yet.

“The reality is, there is no safe way to discharge consumer fireworks,” St. Louis Fire Capt. Garon Mosby said.

Fireworks can easily set fires to their surroundings. In Los Angeles, illegal fireworks cause over $105 million in property damage every year.

A team of scientists signed a letter imploring Americans in the western U.S. to pause their fireworks celebrations, according to NewsNation affiliate KDVR.

Record heat doesn’t mix with a day of the year that accounts for the vast majority of wildfires, they say.

Colorado is already ahead of the curve.

Colorado law bans fireworks that explode or launch into the air and virtually all cities along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains have their own city-level bans.

There’s plenty of reason for such bans. Wildfires in the western U.S. spike on July 4. Nationally, 71% of fireworks injuries happen in July, according to the National Library of Medicine.

For the rest of America, inflation and the continued supply chain crisis may keep some cities dark this holiday weekend as even official firework displays can’t get their hands on the goods.

The American Pyrotechnics Association said fireworks cost 35% more this year, with prices jacked up from the burden of overseas shipping.

“The demand is so high that it’s almost like a perfect storm,” Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said, adding that not having enough crew to work the shows or rental trucks to transport materials has added to the crunch.

Overseas shipping, transportation in the U.S., rising insurance costs and labor shortages have led to canceled displays, along with demand for firework shows at concerts, sports stadiums and the Fourth of July holiday that largely were absent during the first two years of the pandemic, Heckman said.

China produces most of the professional-grade fireworks that shoot up into the air and produce colorful, dazzling bursts in various shapes. The shortage doesn’t lie in manufacturing, Heckman said, but in congestion at U.S. ports.

Heckman said some companies recently chartered about a dozen vessels, each carrying 200-250 containers of consumer-grade fireworks that are considered a hazardous material, and shipped them to ports in Alabama and Louisiana to free up space at ports on the West Coast.

And there just aren’t enough truck drivers with hazmat licenses to bring them across the country, so cities like Phoenix, Arizona, are skipping out altogether.

The city of Flagstaff is settling for a laser-light show instead of explosives due to the threat of wildfire.

Three large wildfires skirted the mountainous city this spring alone, prompting hundreds of people to evacuate, closing down a major highway and destroying some homes.

“The decision was made early because we wanted people to be able to make plans with their families,” said Flagstaff city spokesperson Sarah Langley.

Many local jurisdictions have banned the use of fireworks amid a punishing drought, even with an early start of the annual rainy season that already has led to flooding in the U.S. Southwest. Fireworks are always prohibited in national forests.

A popular northern San Joaquin Valley fireworks show that in pre-pandemic times brought tens of thousands of people to Lake Don Pedro, California, was also canceled because of drought concerns, including the lake’s projected low level.

“The safety of our guests and being good stewards of the land entrusted to us are our highest priorities,” the Don Pedro Recreation Agency said in a statement.

Lompoc on California’s central coast and Castle Rock in Colorado canceled their pyrotechnic displays over worries about wildfires. Still, an Independence Eve fireworks show with live music by the Colorado Symphony is planned July 3 at Denver’s Civic Center Park.

The Southgate Mall in Missoula, Montana, canceled its annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks show without giving a reason.

Elsewhere in the U.S., some North Carolina towns canceled displays after a recent fireworks-related explosion killed a man on a small farm and a large cache of fireworks were destroyed in a related fire.

In Minneapolis, a fireworks display over the Mississippi won’t be held because of staff shortages and construction at a nearby park.

Fire officials in some cities worry that the cancellations of community displays could prompt some people to ramp up their use of consumer-grade fireworks.

“We are typically worried about exposure of sparks and fire to homes and dry brush,” said Phoenix Fire spokesperson Capt. Evan Gammage. “We get so many calls around this time of year.”

But there are cities that are refusing to quit the Independence Day tradition.

Despite undergoing the most destructive wildfire season in New Mexico’s modern history, both Albuquerque and Santa Fe will still host their shows under the fire department’s supervision.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KDVR contributed to this report.


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