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Drought puts fireworks on hold

The dark red areas indicate the most severe drought. (Source: http://www.drought.gov) The dark red areas indicate the most severe drought. (Source: http://www.drought.gov)

(RNN) - Communities around the nation may have to look for other ways to celebrate July 4, thanks to a severe drought that has put a damper on traditional fireworks.

Fireworks, even by professional groups, have been canceled in several areas because of fears that sparks from the annual tradition may ignite fires that could quickly spread and become uncontrollable.

In Plainview, TX, the Chamber of Commerce canceled the fireworks show and rescheduled it for September because of the drought, which has reached historic levels in the area.

"Ours was strictly based on a decision of drought, wildfire concerns, and basically the reason we decided to reschedule is because ours is completely funded through private donations," said Linda Morris, executive director of the Plainview Chamber of Commerce.

She said residents' homes were more important than any July 4 display, and though the fireworks would be shot off in a relatively open area, they did not want to chance any damage to homes nearby.

Plainview isn't the only community that's resorted to changing their holiday festivities to reflect the weather.

At least 12 counties in the Texas panhandle have canceled their professional fireworks displays and several more in the state next door, Arizona, have done the same.

David Brown, NOAA Regional Climate Services Director, said Lubbock, TX, was the center of what he called, "perhaps the driest eight-month stretch in Texas history, going back to the 1800s."

"It's a historic drought, without question," he said.

Conditions have prompted burn bans throughout the South and Southeast, even impacting activities like bar-b-que.

But Morris said that the show took a backseat to safety, and if the drought does not end by its reschedule date, there would be more to worry about.

"If we don't have rain by then, we'll have far worse concerns than our fireworks," she said.

Brown said the area's next good chance at a significant rain event is to hope the tropical season in the Gulf spins a hurricane or tropical storm over the drought-stricken area and dumps just enough rain to ease the drought, but not enough to cause flooding.

Other than that, he said, the only rain the area can expect to see are localized summer thunderstorms that pop up during the day.

"Unfortunately, we're just in a spot right now, it's summer, it's hot, there's not a lot of weather-making action in play," Brown said.

The hot conditions make wildfires easy to start, and easy to spread.

Brown said there are three big things that are needed to be ideal wildfire conditions, and they include a lack of rainfall, low relative humidity and gusty winds.

"Unfortunately, we've had a great number of days with those conditions in place," he said.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in Pima County, AZ, a state where a massive wildfire has burned thousands of acres and charred homes, warned residents that if they use fireworks, they will go directly to jail.

"We're not going to give warnings. We're not going to give tickets. We're gonna put people in jail," he told KOLD. "And if we have parents with children, the parents are going to jail."

A large number of professional firework permits were also denied by the county because of the possibility of fires, and it is worried that if a fire stats in a rural area, it could take a while to stop it.

"Once you start a fire in the conditions we have today, and there's wind, it's almost impossible to stop," Dupnik said.

But fireworks aren't the only thing affected by the drought.

Brown said that agriculture, including cattle ranchers, have taken a big hit this year.

"There is really no chance of a full recovery in 2011," he said.

He said that residents should keep an eye on their local authorities for water usage restrictions, because a lack of rain also means that groundwater begins to dry up.

The worst part about the drought, though, is that the conditions could persist if relief does not come this winter.

Brown said that if La Nina conditions make a comeback later this year, Texas could be in for a multi-year drought.

But a lack of fireworks doesn't mean a lack of festivities for the holiday.

Plainview's usual 10,000 to 15,000 July 4 visitors can still count on fun activities, such as the annual "Red, White and Moo," which is a group of local dairy farming families that comes together to feed the community free cheeseburgers, ice cream and milk for independence day.

Other holiday activities, such as a parade, street dance and street fair, also have the go-ahead for Lubbock, TX, residents.

But if rain doesn't show up this winter, it could be another year without fireworks in 2012.

That's the bad thing about a drought, Brown said - it's not a quick event.

"It's slow developing, and slow to go away."

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