The Fourth of July is a federal holiday (did you hear Juneteenth joined the roster?) celebrated usually with the firing up of barbecues, family get-togethers, and enthusiastic pyrotechnic displays. Unfortunately, in 2021 a staple of this annual event has had its wings clipped in parts of the country due to the recent hot and dry weather that has blanketed the Pacific Northwest, affecting parts of the United States and Canada. Several bans across parts of the US have been put in place to prevent the use of fireworks during Fourth of July celebrations, as it’s feared that combining them with the already turbulent weather conditions and record drought could spark potentially deadly wildfires.
The US National Weather Service has been warning of extreme heat and dry weather for the Northwest, with Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho among those experiencing the worst. The record-breaking heat has seen the opening of “cooling centers” across many cities offering refuge to overheating residents, but despite this, there have already been reports of deaths.
To make matters worse, an unusual weather system known as a heat dome has been effectively keeping a lid on the climbing temperatures, acting as a shield preventing cooler weather systems from mitigating the heat. It’s the culmination of a high-pressure system that's become parked over the Pacific Northwest, ensnaring very warm air and pushing it down to the ground.
The unprecedented heat combined with drought means that many states are primed for potentially devastating wildfires, which can start all on their own when the weather is particularly dry and hot. Add to that a sky full of literal sparks and you can see why fire departments across the region have felt the need to place bans on the festive explosives.
Portland, Oregon has been one of the worst-affected areas and, according to a report from KATU, the decision for Portland Fire & Rescue was a difficult but obvious one for public safety.
“If we don’t take this proactive step now, I fear the consequences could be devastating,” said Fire Chief Sara Boone of the Portland Fire & Rescue. “It is not easy to make a decision like this so close to our national holiday but as Fire Chief, I feel I have a higher responsibility to sometimes make unpopular decisions during unprecedented times to protect life, property, and the environment.”
Several cities and counties in Oregon, Washington, and Utah have also set in sanctions capping or banning the sale and use of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend, mostly up to July 9. While the ban no doubt rains on the planned parades of firework-loving Americans, the devastating wildfire triggered by a gender reveal party in California last year serves as a fresh reminder of how just a single event can wipe out thousands of hectares of land putting people and wildlife at serious risk.