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Some US cities are replacing 4th of July fireworks with environmentally friendly drones

<i>Jeff Stein/Drone Studios</i><br/>A fleet of drones from Drone Studios will illuminate parts of Southern California for July Fourth holiday celebrations.
Jeff Stein/Drone Studios
A fleet of drones from Drone Studios will illuminate parts of Southern California for July Fourth holiday celebrations.

By Ashley R. Williams, CNN

(CNN) — Fire threats and environmental concerns have prompted some US cities to forego traditional Fourth of July fireworks in favor of spectacular drone light shows this year.

Salt Lake City, Utah, tried out the alternative way of celebrating Independence Day on Saturday with its first-ever drone show.

The city’s mayor, Erin Mendenhall, said in a news release the new format marked an effort to minimize the area’s “high fire danger” and to lessen air quality problems caused by pyrotechnics.

“As temperatures rise and fire danger increases, we must be conscientious of both our air quality and the potential for wildfires,” Mendenhall said in the release.

Utah has an average of 800 to 1,000 wildfires each year, and the state is among the most wildfire-prone in the US, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

In neighboring Colorado, also in its wildfire season, the City of Boulder made a similar decision this year with its first-ever nighttime drone show next week.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the city had previously celebrated its Ralphie’s Independence Day Blast since 1941, according to a social media post.

“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,” the city’s government stated via Facebook.

Dan Kingdom, owner of WK Real Estate in Boulder, said the committee responsible for planning the city’s July Fourth celebrations took the drone route this year after considering the environmental impacts and their difficulties tracking down fireworks, he told CNN.

“The fact that we had the Marshall Fire here in our community about 18 months ago was one of the things we discussed,” said Kingdom, whose company, along with the University of Colorado, partnered with the city on coordinating the event.

“Ultimately, the decision became pretty clear for us because the company that we’ve long gotten purchased the fireworks from had gone out of business during the pandemic, and we were not able to find fireworks for the show, so it made our decision pretty straightforward and pretty easy to go with the drones,” Kingdom said.

Farther west in California, other communities like Lake Tahoe, La Jolla and Ocean Beach also opted to host the more environmentally friendly synchronized drone events for their celebrations.

The owner of the drone company handling the La Jolla light show in San Diego County said La Jolla and Ocean Beach are trying a new way of celebrating Independence Day for the first time.

Jeff Stein, who runs California-based Drone Studios, added La Jolla had gone without fireworks for the past five years.

“They found drone shows as a solution because they’re quiet,” Stein told CNN.

“Drones are reusable, and with fireworks, you have smoke, other fallout like debris, the noise stresses out dogs and people with PTSD. There’s a lot of military in San Diego,” he said.

The pixels of the drones expected to illuminate the coastal community will simulate fireworks, show off aerial animation and tell stories through motion graphics, according to Stein.

“You can’t do that with fireworks,” he said.

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