More cities scaling back or eliminating fireworks displays

2:33 PM, Jul 1, 2012   |    comments
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Once again, the skies will be a little darker this July Fourth.

Cities facing tight budgets have scaled back or eliminated Independence Day fireworks displays in recent years in the face of tight budgets. But the wildfires raging in Colorado and record-setting heat throughout the Midwest and Atlantic coast are adding to this year's cancellations.

That was the case at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., a theme park that gets 1.2 million visitors each year and has been holding July Fourth fireworks shows for decades. Park officials conferred with the local fire department and decided the risk of starting a wildfire was just too high.

"You hate it, because it's such a fun celebration," said park spokeswoman Paula Werne. "But once you start thinking more with your head than your heart, it's just not worth the risk. "

Cancellations were most prevalent in Colorado, where three major wildfires are raging around the state. Officials from Boulder to Lone Tree to Colorado Springs have canceled fireworks displays and warned people that they could face penalties for lighting up their own.

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said his officers will give no warnings to people who violate the city's fireworks restrictions, leading to citations and possibly arrests.

"With the fire danger being so high and with a wildfire already on our doorstep, we just can't take any chances," Beckner said.

The city of Carmi, Ill., also canceled its fireworks display, the first time Police Chief Randy Hamblin can remember that happening.

Coming from a family filled with members of the military and law enforcement, Hamblin was upset over the cancellation. But because of the severe drought, he said his department will stringently enforce the state's ban on most fireworks.

"Nobody can be as patriotic as I am. We're real flag-wavers," Hamblin said. "But this year, it's obviously very important that we find alternatives to incendiary devices to celebrate the holiday."

Despite the difficulties, some cities are finding a way.

A fireworks display in the city of New Rochelle, N.Y., was cut out of the city's budget. But private donations, including a $50,000 gift from a specialty non-profit school called the S.E.L.F.-Help Foundation, saved the fireworks display.

In New Britain, Conn., more than $25,000 in private donations, combined with another $25,000 from the city, was needed to put on this year's fireworks display.

Others have gone on with the show despite economic objections.

The city of Detroit recently adopted a budget that slashes $250 million from the budget, yet it spent $700,000 in traffic and security assistance for the 54th annual Target Fireworks display, which was held June 25. City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta opposed the expense, saying the money was desperately needed for critical city services.

That "$700,000 could pay about 14 police officer salaries for a year, and you spend that in one night?" he said. "I didn't think it was the wisest thing to do."

By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY

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