SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Many Americans seeking normalcy as pandemic restrictions end are anxiously awaiting the traditional July 4 fireworks display. But with a historic drought in the western United States and fears of another devastating wildfire season, authorities are canceling exhibits, banning setting off fireworks, or calling for caution.
Fireworks have already caused a few small wildfires, including one started by a child in northern Utah and another in central California. Last year, a pyrotechnic device designed to celebrate a baby’s gender reveal sparked a fire in California that killed a firefighter during a season of wildfires in the United States that burned the second largest land area in nearly 40 years.
Parts of the American West are experiencing their worst drought conditions in more than a century this year, said Jennifer Balch, director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado. People setting off fireworks in the home are of concern due to both the powder magazine conditions conducive to wildfire outbreaks and the threat of injury. Last year, injuries hit their highest level in 15 years after the pandemic canceled large gatherings, federal data showed.
âAs a fire specialist, I am preparing for this fire season due to the drought and heat already present,â Balch said. “I think the fireworks right now is a terrible idea.”
Fireworks industry professionals, who have also stressed caution in drought-prone areas, expect strong sales despite a shortage caused by pandemic-related manufacturing downturns and disruptions commercial.
âWe think we’re going to have a great year,â said James Fuller, a fireworks safety expert at Alabama-based TNT Fireworks.
While fireworks are an integral part of the nation’s Independence Day celebrations, they light thousands of fires a year, including one that burned down Bobbie Uno’s home in Clearfield, Utah, l ‘last year. She had to jump out of the way before it hit the side of her house.
âIn five seconds my house, from the bushes to the roof, was on fire,â Uno said. The fire caused $ 60,000 in damage and forced her family out of their home for weeks.
âI want everyone to be aware of the danger because it’s scary even in a little cul-de-sac,â Uno said.
Several Utah cities are banning people from setting off their own fireworks this year during the record drought, but many Republicans are against a statewide ban. Salt Lake County Councilor Aimee Winder Newton supports the restrictions but thinks this year is a bad time for a blanket ban.
âWe’re just coming out of this pandemic where people already felt like the government was restraining them in so many ways,â she said. “When you pronounce bans arbitrarily, we might have a situation where people who weren’t going to light fireworks will voluntarily buy fireworks just to send a message to the government.”
State fireworks laws vary widely across the United States, but local bans on personal fireworks are appearing from Montana to Oregon, which has been hit by massive wildfires the last year.
In Arizona, already ravaged by more than a dozen wildfires, many cities have called off their public fireworks displays. The Yavapai-Apache Nation typically holds an exhibit outside of their casino near Camp Verde in central Arizona.
âThis year, with worse conditions than last year, we decided in May that we would not have fireworks,â said James Perry, spokesperson for the tribe’s Cliff Castle Casino Hotel. âBased on the large fires currently burning in and around our community, we are happy with our decision. “
It’s a similar story in Colorado, where dozens of shows have been scuttled, most notably in Steamboat Springs, a ski town where firefighters are already scattered around.
“The grass always catches fireâ¦ why are we doing something that causes fire when fire is our biggest problem?” Said Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s special projects manager.
But in neighboring Wyoming, business is booming in fireworks shops, including sales of banned items elsewhere. Parking lots fill up on weekends and many cars have foreign license plates.
âIt’s not just Colorado,â said Ben Laws, director of Pyro City. “We see people from Nebraska, we see people from Montana, we see people from all over come and buy.”
Other cities, including Boise, Idaho and Santa Fe, New Mexico, are working to ban personal fireworks while keeping their exhibits public, where safety precautions are often stricter and firefighters are in alert.
In North Dakota, where more than two-thirds of the state experiences extreme or exceptional drought – the two worst categories – some areas are passing local bans. In South Dakota, where conditions are a little less difficult, the governor is fighting the federal government to organize a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore.
A show that draws tens of thousands of people to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, near the California state border, was initially canceled for the second year in a row, but organizers subsequently decided to host an “experience of smaller and safer fireworks “. Holding fireworks over the water is one of the safest ways to celebrate, said Professor Balch.
The industry is urging people who light their own fireworks to follow local restrictions, choose a flat location a safe distance from homes, have a source of water on hand to extinguish used products and dispose of with care.
Some security officials would prefer people to avoid lighting their own fireworks all together. Michele Steinberg of the National Fire Protection Association pointed to federal data showing 15,600 Americans attended emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries last year, thousands more than the year before.
âI love watching fireworks, but honestly they’re not safe in the hands of consumers,â she said. “Even a sparkler can reach up to 1,200 degrees, which is actually the heat of a forest fire.”
Associated Press editors Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona; Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Cedar Attanasio in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada; and Associated Press / Report for America, Corps member Patty Nieberg in Denver, contributed to this report.
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