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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

No staff. No supply. No rain: Some cities call off July 4 fireworks.

Fireworks over Riverfront Park in Spokane Wednesday, July 4, 2018.   (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Livia Albeck-Ripka New York Times

The night skies of some U.S. cities will remain dark this Independence Day, with supply chain and staffing shortages, drought and concerns over wildfires leading to the cancellation of several fireworks shows across the country.

For some, it will be the third year in a row that their shows have been called off.

“The first two years were pandemic-related and this year; it’s supply-chain-related,” said Adam Waltz, a spokesman for the City of Phoenix, where the three main fireworks displays have been canceled.

According to Waltz, the vendor that usually supplies the city its fireworks had been unable to promise the product.

“It’s just disheartening,” he added.

Other cities have canceled their fireworks displays over concerns about wildfires. Across the West in particular, drought, and hot, dry and windy weather this summer has already helped to set the conditions for fast-moving blazes. As of Wednesday, there were five wildfires burning across the region.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, about 150 miles north of Phoenix, city officials decided they would rather plan a laser light show than organize fireworks that they may have to cancel at the last minute, if weather conditions meant they could not conduct the show safely.

“We face dangerous conditions,” said Sarah Langley, a spokeswoman for the city.

She said that the city had not yet made any decisions about whether it would continue to replace fireworks with laser light shows in future years.

In North Lake Tahoe, California, city officials said they decided to replace their annual July 4th fireworks show with drones, also because of fire hazards, as well as other environmental risks. (A variety of chemicals that can be polluting are needed to make fireworks spectacles big, loud and colorful.)

Displays at the Don Pedro Lake, about 50 miles east of Modesto, California, and Claremont, California, about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, have also been called off because of the state’s crippling drought.

In Claremont, this is the third year in a row that the show has been canceled, said Melissa Vollaro, a spokeswoman for the city. She said that it takes about 650,000 gallons of water to wet down the area where the fireworks are released, which was impossible under the current water restrictions. Instead, she said, the city was planning a concert in the park.

Other cities have canceled their shows because of staffing shortages.

Cal Expo in Sacramento said that it needed to focus its staffing and resources on the upcoming state fair and food festival, and was therefore unable to host its Independence Day fireworks. In Ocean City, Maryland, authorities said two fireworks shows could not take place because of “labor shortages.” Officials in Minneapolis also said they had to call off the display because of construction at a local park, as well as staffing issues.

In many other parts of the country, including New York City, Independence Day celebrations are going ahead as planned. For some, it is the first time they will be displaying fireworks since before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everybody is ready to celebrate their independence from this virus,” said Julie L. Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Heckman said that while some shows were being canceled, she still expected the number of professional fireworks displays across the country to exceed those of 2020 and 2021.

“Demand is at 110% of prepandemic levels,” Heckman said, adding that she expected close to 17,000 shows across the country in the days surrounding Independence Day. (Before the coronavirus pandemic, she said, there were about 16,000 shows during this period nationwide.)

Some residents in cities with canceled shows are planning to light their own fireworks. Some types of consumer fireworks are legal in 49 states as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, although individual counties and cities can enforce bans, Heckman said. Consumer fireworks are banned in Massachusetts.

Dennis Revell, a spokesman for TNT Fireworks, the largest distributor of consumer fireworks in the country, said that in 2020, when the vast majority of public events were canceled, TNT’s sales increased significantly, both in terms of gross sales, and the number of people buying their products.

“We retained a lot of that in 2021,” Revell said. But, he added, “It’s way too early to predict what 2022 will look like.”

Some smaller retailers, however, have also been slammed by supply chain issues.

Eyvonne Hall, the owner of Discount Fireworks in Brainerd, Minnesota, about 130 miles northwest of Minneapolis, said she had been waiting for some orders, which previously took about a week to arrive, for more than a month.

She said she had called 12 different suppliers looking for one particularly beloved firework: Pure Fantasy.

“They’re nice and colorful, and the fountain goes up a ways and people love that,” Hall said. “It’s been slow this year. I’m just hoping maybe in the next few days it’s going to pick up.”

In Queen Creek, about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix, where public fireworks displays have been called off, another seller said her business had picked up, thanks in part to the cancellations.

“They’re really disappointed, and that’s a shame, but they’re really excited to try these new fountains at home,” Christian Valles, who runs the fireworks stand, said of her customers. She added, “they will get a good show.”

Michael Lusiak, a fireworks enthusiast from Green Bay, Wisconsin, about 115 miles north of Milwaukee, said that since 2020, he has been trying to step up his private show, in the hopes of dazzling Independence Day revelers who may not have had someplace else to go.

The best moment, said Lusiak, a farmhand who hosts the shows in his employer’s cornfield, is the grand finale.

“I can feel the shock waves in my chest, and I know I’m making a statement people for miles are going to see or hear,” he said.

“All the cheering and the horns honking,” he added, “that is one of the best feelings in the world.”