On July 4, the U.S. throws itself a big birthday party. That usually means town parades, backyard barbeques, and lots and lots of fireworks. This year, not so much. Given belt-tightening budgets and bone-dry lands, fireworks displays have been canceled across the country.
Here are some guidelines about whether it's safe -- and legal -- to get your own sparklers.
Regulations are set locally and vary by county, even within the same state. So, check with your local government -- the neighborhood fire station should set you straight -- before you plan your own show.
Severe droughts have put a dimmer on light shows from Florida to Arizona. And statistics back up the fears: The National Fire Protection Association notes that more fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other day of the year. In 2009, fireworks were blamed for an estimated 18,000 fires.
According to Yahoo! News, fear of wildfires has led to bans on fireworks in many counties in Texas, where burn bans are in effect that restrict even sparklers. The state, which usually allows the sale of roadside fireworks for the Fourth of July, has shut down the stands. San Antonio even canceled its fireworks show.
In Florida, residents are usually allowed to buy sparklers. And a loophole for purchasing explosives to scare away birds or other pests is rarely enforced by police. This year, the wildfires mean that most counties in the state have banned all sales of the rockets.
New Mexico has placed a ban in parts of the state. Governor Susanna Martinez explained in a statement, "The conditions in New Mexico are simply too dangerous for anyone to buy, sell, or use fireworks this summer."
California normally allows ground and hand-held sparkling devices. Banned: firecrackers, rockets, Roman candles, or sparklers measuring 10 inches long. In L.A., residents who get a permit can set off firecrackers on the beach.
Local governments can, of course, decide to limit the state law even more.
If you decide to light up this holiday, please be safe. The National Council on Fireworks Safety offers these commonsense tips: Keep water nearby, obey local laws, and don't let anyone under 12 handle a sparkler. Keep in mind your pets may not enjoy the sound or sight of your show, so keep them inside.
-- By Claudine Zap