Sat, 15 Aug 2020

by Peter Mertz

DENVER, the United States, July 5 (Xinhua) -- With record drought conditions and cancellations due to COVID-19, some scattered fireworks filled the skies across COVID-19 beleaguered U.S. West, as most citizens stayed at home and celebrated the Independence Day weekend in an unprecedented, reserved fashion.

The major national day dates back to 1776, when the fledgling United States fought for and gained freedom from then superpower Great Britain.

The 2020 celebrations will be long remembered.

During the past week, about a dozen big western states have seen record spikes of COVID-19 cases, and have implemented new restrictions and safety measures, with governors in Utah and Texas finally mandating masks.

In the meantime, western governors have shuttered bars and restaurants again, after less than a month of reopening, after hospitals filled again with people infected with the novel coronavirus which has killed about 130,000 Americans as of Sunday afternoon.

What's more, an historic drought throughout the region made this year's Fourth of July in the west become mostly a stay-at-home affair, with fireworks restrictions affecting most states.

FEWER PARADES

Historically, Independence Day parades rank as one of America's most revered cultural events.

In Page, Arizona, "several hundred residents attended a Fourth of July parade, at 9 a.m., and fireworks went off 12 hours later," Raising Arizona Kids magazine posted.

With Saturday's daytime temperatures hitting 45 degree Celsius, some residents in Arizona's capital Phoenix crowded into local parks, but most people stayed at home on Independence Day and joined family members and friends in backyard swimming pools to escape the heat.

"4th of July fireworks displays this year will largely be drive-up events so families can observe social distancing. Instead of attending parades," the magazine noted.

In Utah, where local officials mandated mask wearing last week, a number of fireworks displays took place around the state, although Governor Gary Herbert told KUTV 2-News to celebrate safely by "gathering in smaller groups, hold events outside, practice physical distancing and use masks."

"While we celebrate this weekend, let's do so safely. COVID-19 has changed how we interact & celebrate. Be especially careful around older family members and those at higher risk," Herbert posted on Twitter.

In the Big Sky state of Montana, most traditional Independence Day parades were "canceled due to COVID-19, although in Great Falls and Livingston parades and fireworks attract thousands of (mostly stay-home) viewers," KBZK 9-News reported.

Las Vegas, with its entertainment emphasis, sported perhaps the most impressive fireworks display in the west, with more than a dozen displays throughout the area.

The Star-Spangled Sky fireworks event began at 9 p.m. in Henderson, 16 miles from downtown Las Vegas, and featured four display locations, KLAS-TV reported. In nearby Sin City, a number of resorts and casinos lit up the skies, with shows continuing until 10:30 p.m.

Perhaps the most subdued Independence Day occurred in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom this week ordered the three-week closures of bars, indoor restaurant dining areas and other indoor venues for 21 of 58 counties, including the two most populous, Los Angeles and San Diego.

"California is in a make-or-break moment with infection rates and hospitalizations rising sharply," Newsom told the media, as beaches were closed throughout the state - a usual destination for thousands of state residents.

In Northern California, police reported incidents of citizens climbing over barricades in violation of local ordinances to go to the beach anyway.

"It was just a revolving door of people climbing over the barricades, getting set up and getting kicked out," said Jessica Blair, Half Moon Bay's communications director.

In southern California, the sunny skies did not brighten the somber Fourth of July mood, with beaches and businesses closed.

Local law enforcement announced stiff penalties. West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Monterey announced enforcing mask mandates with tickets ranging from 100 to 300 U.S. dollars for a first offense.

A number of California towns and municipalities broadcast "virtual" Independence Day parades on the internet.

STAYING HOME

Wyoming's largest city and capital Cheyenne staged a massive fireworks display with the intention of allowing local residents to enjoy the spectacle from their own backyards.

The state's largest city canceled its world-famous Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) in 2020 scheduled in July over COVID-19 concerns, after 112 straight years, but local officials used the rodeo grounds on July 4 anyway, as a launching pad to give residents a colorful light show.

At local time 9:35 p.m., explosions erupted in the skies above the empty rodeo stadium seats, and country music was blasted from big speakers into the city.

The 2020 show has been "designed to maximize aerial displays for visibility from locations all over Cheyenne," CFD spokeswoman Nicole Gamst said.

"We are pleased to be able to offer the fireworks show and accompanying music where it can be enjoyed from your own backyard, porch, patio, or wherever you choose to watch this great Cheyenne tradition," she added.

The record dry conditions also put the damper on fireworks in Idaho, the heavily-forested northwestern state bordering Canada, where many nighttime displays were canceled.

"Every year we see homes and structures that are burned down from the careless lighting of aerial fireworks illegally and we don't want to see that happen," Jerry McAdams with the Boise Fire Department (BFD) told the media.

"Our firefighters are extremely busy every single Fourth of July. They run from call to call to call to call, numerous vegetation fires, structure fires, shed fires that type of thing and the vast majority of that is people lighting off aerial fireworks illegally," McAdams said, cautioning local residents to be careful with private fireworks displays, that were still allowed across the state.

In the Rocky Mountains state of Colorado, officials were more worried about possible wildfires triggered by fireworks due to the record drought, than people gathering and violating COVID-19 distancing.

Called a "megadrought" in an April study by Columbia University, a vast region covering nine states from California to Colorado is experiencing the second longest drought in 1,200 years, the report said.

And indeed, 2020 has seen a continuation of record-low precipitation throughout the west, according to the National Weather Service, especially in Colorado, prompting fire departments in the mountains to impose fire bans back in March.

Some 38 jurisdictions across Colorado banned fireworks, with Boulder and Denver threatening fines up to 2,600 U.S. dollars for violators, NBC9 News Denver reported.

Still, despite the dangerous conditions, a number of firework displays took place on the flat, eastern half of the state, including Colorado Springs, Firestone, Greeley, and Loveland.

But to the west, in the vast Rocky Mountains, only one municipality took the risk of starting a wildfire - the high-elevation ski resort town of Vail, situated at 8,000-feet allowed fireworks to occur after dark.

"Certainly, strange in Denver without the Rockies and no fireworks display at Coors Field, and no display from the Outlaws at Mile High," CBS4 meteorologist Ashton Altieri said of the absence of the usual music, parades and fireworks in Colorado's capital city.

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