Why Some Cities Have Ditched Traditional Fireworks

Drones don't leave a haze of smoke behind or increase wildfire risks
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 4, 2023 5:52 PM CDT
Why Some Cities Have Ditched Traditional Fireworks
Fireworks explode over Lackawanna County Courthouse Square during the Lackawanna County Scrantastic Spectacular in Scranton, Pa., on Monday, July 3, 2023.   (Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP)

Cities including Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah have ditched traditional fireworks for the first time this year in favor of Fourth of July drone light shows, which advocates say are less polluting, safer—and don't stress out every dog in town. Rick Boss, the president of Sky Elements Drone Shows, tells CBS that drone shows are increasingly seen as a safer option, especially when the risk of wildfires is high. "Less risk of fire, less risk of damage, less risk of injury," he says. Drones, Boss says, "leave no smoke or debris behind when performing." Other cities have chosen laser light shows.

The smoke in particular is a major worry at a time when smoke from wildfires is already causing poor air quality in many parts of the US. Researchers say Fourth of July celebrations in an average year bring a short-lived spike of more than 40% in fine particulate pollution, enough to aggravate symptoms in people with respiratory problems. "Around the world, we've seen consistently that, during times when fireworks usage is really high, we have really bad air quality," Pallavi Pant, head of global health at the Health Effects Institute, tells NPR.

"The shift from traditional fireworks to drones was not an easy decision and based on a number of factors, including increased fire danger fueled by climate change," Boulder officials said when they announced the change last month. The drones used in displays can assemble in shapes so sophisticated "that traditional pyrotechnics can seem a little lackluster in comparison," per NPR, but they have some of the same limitations as fireworks. As bad weather closed in on Tuesday night, Boulder officials warned that the drones won't be able to fly "if there are sustained winds over 20 mph, heavy rain, lightning, or visibility under 3 miles." (Read more fireworks stories.)

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