Americans celebrated the nation's 232nd birthday Friday with parades, backyard barbecues and planned fireworks displays. But all was not sunny as nasty weather threatened to dampen East Coast celebrations, and California wildfires spoiled plans on the West Coast.
Boy Scouts in Hartford, Conn. rang a replica of the Liberty Bell, while similar events were held across the country by a group known as Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
In Mount Pleasant, S.C., Annely Middleton Klingensmith, a sixth-generation descendent of signer Arthur Middleton planned to help read the document there.
And near Kissimmee, Fla., a wounded bald eagle, the national bird, was flying free after spending more than two months rehabilitating. The adult male bird was freed in Lake Tohopekaliga, the heart of eagle country. The bird required about 20 stitches to the head and suffered a punctured skull and torn eyelid.
On Thursday, pre-holiday festivities included the marriage of a Ben Franklin and a Betsy Ross re-enactor outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
In New York, a decidedly less-majestic display of will took place in Coney Island — the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating competition. Joey Chestnut won for the second straight year in a row, once again beating competitive eating legend Takeru Kobayashi. The two initially tied in the 10-minute chow-down, then Chesnut won in a five-dog eat-off.
After dark, more than 3 million people were expected to attend the nation's largest fireworks display along the East River, moved south this year so onlookers will get a better view of the world famous city skyline.
The 30-minute show, broadcast on NBC, was to be launched from barges in two areas. Some 30,000 shells were to be set off — more than 1,000 per minute. Organizers said this year's show will include new nautical fireworks that float on the water. Other new shells will go through multiple transformations after they launch, providing four different effects.
It is such a large and potentially dangerous load of fireworks that the shipment gets its own Fire Department escort from the moment it crosses the state line from New Jersey, officials said.
It's illegal in New York for individuals to set off fireworks, so city officials urged residents to instead go see the display, put on by Macy's. And, they warned, anyone with fireworks will get caught.
Police have set up checkpoints on bridges and tunnels in the days leading up to the holiday, and are working with authorities in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland to arrest anyone bringing pyrotechnics over state lines.
Since April, at least six vehicles and 218 cases of fireworks were seized and 64 arrests made, police said. On Wednesday, more than 40 boxes of fireworks valued at $10,000 were discovered in a home on Staten Island, police said. The homeowner was charged with unlawful dealing in fireworks.
But police have made fewer arrests than in previous years, a sign the problem may be decreasing, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "That doesn't mean anybody should relax," he said, stressing the department was not easing up on enforcement of the crime. Fliers warning of the dangers of fireworks and the consequences of being caught were plastered all over the city.
On Friday, police were stationed in areas known for illegal fireworks, specifically on Staten Island.
"Don't use fireworks," Kelly said. "Go to the greatest fireworks display in the world, the Macy's display taking place on Friday evening in the harbor."
Festivities turned sour in Vermont Thursday as a man dressed as Santa Claus threw a cream pie in the face of Gov. Jim Douglas during the Montpelier Independence Day parade.
President Bush was also heckled Friday while honoring new citizens at Monticello, Va.
In Big Sur, Calif., firefighters worked round the clock to save the oceanside town from an advancing wildfire as residents heeded orders to evacuate.
The fire has spread over more than 100 square miles and destroyed at least 20 homes in the past two weeks. It's only 5 percent contained. In all of California, more than 350 wildfires fires are burning, down from 1,500 just a few days ago.
Across the country, officials warned residents in drought-stricken states to skip the backyard fireworks displays.
North Carolina's Division of Forest Resources said the fireworks trigger many wildfires around the holiday weekend that damage property and drain resources.
Wildfires have already burned nearly 70,000 acres in the state this year — the highest total since 1986. Crews are still battling a wildfire in eastern North Carolina that has consumed more than 41,000 acres. That fire has been burning for more than a month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.