Published June 28, 2013
With severe to exceptional drought sitting across most of the western half of the nation, many will have to forego fireworks displays this year as fire bans limit their use.
Fire restrictions are categorized as either a Stage I or a Stage II restriction. Stage I restrictions prohibit burning, maintaining, using or even attending a campfire, bonfire or stove fire unless a permit has been issued or the fires are in camp or picnic areas created and maintained by the Forest Service. Stage II restrictions limit these fires even in Forest Service areas. Stage I bans will also typically disallow the use or sale of fireworks.
Julie Heckman, Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said it seemed the most widespread bans are located in Colorado, where shows have been canceled. Overall, she is optimistic that this year is better than 2012.
"Last year was the worst in three decades," she said of canceled firework shows. "It hurt consumer backyard sales. This year should be better."
Most of the bans enacted will only affect private use of fireworks. Many towns will still hold shows if they obtain the proper fire permits and take the necessary safety precautions.
Fire bans in Colorado vary from county to county, but many will be restricting or eliminating fireworks use this year as a result of dry conditions and record-breaking wildfires. Started June 11, the now-contained Black Forest Fire destroyed 379 homes and over 14,000 acres, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. El Paso County, where Black Forest is located, is one of many in Colorado to have Stage I fire restrictions in place, which includes a ban of all sales and use of fireworks. The full list of county-by-county bans can be found here.
Fire restrictions in Utah are mainly contained to the southeastern part of the state, where wildfires have occurred. FireRestrictions.us shows Stage II restrictions for these counties. As of June 27, there is no set end date to the bans. Utah residents should check with local agencies to determine what the restrictions are for their area and should watch for updates, as more bans may be instated before the holiday.
Stage II fire restrictions are widespread across Arizona, where severe to extreme drought has increased fire concerns. Four wildfires are currently active in the state as of 11 a.m. EDT on June 28, including the nearly-7,000-acre Doce Fire. While bans for most counties in Arizona restrict the use of explosives and fireworks, residents should track the restrictions for their area for updates and for any public allowances that may have been granted through permit.
New Mexico hosts much of the "exceptional" drought levels impacting the West. As a result, Stage I and II restrictions have been implemented across the state. Seven fires are actively raging across the state, including the devastating 92,000 acre Silver Fire that is only 20 percent contained. The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department issued a statement on May 3 stating that,
"Fireworks use is prohibited on lands covered wholly or in part in timber, brush, grass, grain, or other flammable vegetation. The State Forester is allowing exceptions to the ban on fireworks where they are a part of a public exhibit approved by the local fire department."
Heckman urges safety considerations anytime anyone is using fireworks. She recommends that people, especially those in dry areas, wet their lawns to prevent fire risks whether an official restiction has been listed or not.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern U.S., the problem for fireworks will not be from a risk of wildfires.
According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, "The pattern through Independence Day and the weekend beyond in some locations favors additional widely separated torrential downpours and conditions favoring fog in some locations."
The downpours can be not only disruptive for outdoor plans ranging from outdoor festivals to fireworks but could also be life-threatening in a few cases.
"It is impossible to predict beyond a few hours exactly where the random flooding problems will be," Sosnowski added. "The downpours will be driven by the heating of the day in a moist atmosphere that will resemble the tropics."
Light winds and the saturated air during the evening hours can lead to fog. The calm, moist conditions could cause the smoke from the fireworks to be slow to disperse. Shows synced to music could be delayed at times as a result.
"The best viewing conditions overall may be in the Central states, where there will be less thunderstorm activity, a slight breeze, lower humidity and few concerns of drought," Sosnowski stated.