PHOENIX – The skies over a scattering of Western U.S. cities will stay dark for the third consecutive Fourth of July as some major fireworks displays are canceled again this year — some over wildfire concerns amid dry weather and others because of enduring pandemic-related staffing and supply chain issues.
Phoenix canceled its three major Independence Day displays because it couldn't obtain professional-grade fireworks. Shows in several other cities around Phoenix are still on.
“Unless you’re in a really remote area where that was the only show, most people will be able to find a show nearby,” said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
Overseas shipping, transportation in the U.S., rising insurance costs and labor shortages have led to the canceled displays, along with demand for fireworks 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.
“The demand is so high that it's almost like a perfect storm,” Heckman said, adding that not having enough crew to work the shows or rental trucks to transport materials have added to the crunch.
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 hazardous material, and shipped them to ports in Alabama and Louisiana to free up space at ports on the West Coast.
Other cities around the country are halting the displays because of the threat of wildfire. Flagstaff in northern Arizona will carry out its annual Independence Day parade through the city's historic downtown, but a new laser light show will replace the standard pyrotechnic display.
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 always are 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, also was 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.
In New Mexico, the most destructive wildfire season in modern history won’t stop that state’s major cities, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, from holding Fourth of July fireworks displays under fire department supervision.
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.
Those who plan to light up consumer-grade fireworks like bottle rockets, firecrackers and ground-level fountains at home can expect to pay more for them. The American Pyrotechnic Association estimates that costs are up 35% across the industry.
Fire officials in some cities worry that the cancelations 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.”
AP writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this story.