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Communities Across The West Cancel Fireworks Because Of Wildfire Threats

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hot and dry conditions across the West are causing some cities to cancel Fourth of July fireworks celebrations - oh, man. Well, this happens often. And Grace Hood of Colorado Public Radio reports on a town forced to adapt to a changing climate.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: In early May, a city council meeting in Glenwood Springs, just west of Denver, got highly contentious. The topic wasn't gun control or zoning. It was whether to hold the town's celebrated July Fourth fireworks display.

DEBRA FIGUEROA: It is an incredibly tough decision.

HOOD: Debra Figueroa is the town's city manager. And key to Glenwood Springs' economy - tourism traffic and July Fourth fireworks. The city is also no stranger to the threat of wildfire.

FIGUEROA: You know, it came down to we need to protect the city. And actually, by preplanning, we have a laser show in place.

HOOD: Across Colorado, it's up to cities and counties to make this decision. A laser show may not have the same gravitas as fireworks, but Figueroa invested time and money to hire a professional company to put on the laser show. Down the road from Glenwood Springs, Aspen will have 50 drones replacing fireworks. They'll light up the night sky and swarm into formations that include eagles and the American flag.

JENNIFER BALCH: There's lots of things to do besides subjecting ourselves to the risk of wildfire.

HOOD: Jennifer Balch is a geography professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research shows that the vast majority of wildfires are started by people. And July Fourth was the single-biggest day for human caused wildfire across the entire country.

BALCH: It's a risk that I don't think is worth taking. I think we should try and develop some activities that are different from fireworks that can still mark our Independence Day.

HOOD: That idea is a non-starter for Frank Elliott.

FRANK ELLIOTT: We've got sparklers, smoke bombs, snappers. You got...

HOOD: His family owns Jurassic Fireworks, a pop-up fireworks sales tent north of Denver. He acknowledges that it is really dry this year, but he says recent rain should solve the problem.

ELLIOTT: I don't think that it merits the ban that they have in place right now. So this, to me, might be the worst year ever.

HOOD: Southwest of Colorado, drought conditions in Arizona are even more severe. In Flagstaff, a town surrounded by ponderosa pine forest, the city has canceled fireworks for the first time in more than a decade.

PAT STASKY: You know, I feel bad that we're not doing fireworks.

HOOD: Pat Stasky is the fire marshal for the Flagstaff Fire Department.

STASKY: But for me, actually, this year, it really is a relief, given the extreme conditions that we have, that we're not going to have those things flying around the air this year.

HOOD: As cities look ahead to their future Fourth celebrations, those Aspen drones could have company down the road. Reyna Price is with Great Lakes Drone Company in Michigan. Their drones can work in tandem with other attractions.

REYNA PRICE: So we can incorporate our drones with the fireworks to embed extra wow factor to a performance.

HOOD: Because sometimes even the classic traditions need a little modern pizzazz.

For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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