Could laser shows replace July 4th fireworks?

Jul 2 2012 - 4:31pm

Images

Copper-Bromide laser in operation in South Florida, February 2006
FILE - In this July 4, 2011 file photo, families watch the City of Galveston's 4th of July fireworks display from the beach at 37th Street. The easing of drought conditions around Texas means fewer burn bans and more fireworks this year. (AP Photo/The Galveston County Daily News, Kevin M. Cox, File)
Copper-Bromide laser in operation in South Florida, February 2006
FILE - In this July 4, 2011 file photo, families watch the City of Galveston's 4th of July fireworks display from the beach at 37th Street. The easing of drought conditions around Texas means fewer burn bans and more fireworks this year. (AP Photo/The Galveston County Daily News, Kevin M. Cox, File)

Like Francis Scott Key's Fort McHenry, the venerable tradition of Independence Day fireworks shows is under attack.

 

From one flank, red ink from municipal budgets has fireworks fuses fizzling.

Without enough bucks for their bang, cities that once bankrolled fireworks shows for the Fourth of July have canceled them.

On another side, environmentalists are raising questions: What about the smoke? The noise? The debris?

Then there's Mother Nature -- across the West, fire danger is high, and fireworks are being nixed. In fire-ravaged Colorado, Fort Collins, Boulder and Aspen are among the cities that have canceled fireworks this year because of fire danger.

Fireworks face at least one other, "Star Wars"-like threat: lasers.

Laser light shows are making inroads in places where fireworks have been nixed, including Monterey, Calif., which uses lights choreographed to live music.

Another place that opted for lasers is the tiny town of Columbus, Texas.

The town used to have fireworks, but one Fourth of July a wildfire broke out and forced cancellation of the pyrotechnics, said Kim Dyer of the Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, Texas' devastating drought forced cancellation in Columbus again.

Faced with the prospect of paying cancellation fees again for fireworks, the chamber looked elsewhere.

"They can set a real nice laser show to patriotic music," Dyer said.

In other areas, the economy appears to have caused the most damage to the tradition.

Monterey, for example, cut its $200,000 fireworks show in 2009 while facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit.

This year, San Ramon, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area cut its show, too.

Throngs flocking to San Ramon after nearby cities canceled their shows drove up costs to control crowds and traffic, according to the city's website.

Despite these cancellations and others, the American Pyrotechnics Association says municipal fireworks displays are alive and well.

There are 14,000 shows being done for Independence Day 2012 around the country, said Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the group.

She didn't challenge the idea that cities are cutting back, but said "what we're really seeing is a shift in who's paying for the fireworks."

Corporate and private donors are picking up the tab, she said.

In Monterey, the nonprofit Monterey Bay Symphony is paying for Fourth of July entertainment, but it's skipping the fireworks.

"This is going to be groundbreaking," said Michael Walas, who came up with the laser idea for the symphony group.

He estimates the laser show will cost about $10,000 -- a fraction of the fireworks show, which used to be shot off over the famous bay.

Eliminating pounding noise and debris on the coast is a good thing, Walas said.

"Here we have the Monterey Bay which is a protected (marine) sanctuary," he said. "It can't be denied that there's residue going into the bay."

He hopes the city will be pleased by the alternative show and will take back the show -- and its lowered costs -- in future years.

Creative Laser Media, the company doing the show, says laser displays for the Fourth have become more popular since the company did its first show 13 years ago.

Laser shows also have been suggested where there are environmental concerns.

(Contact Carlos Alcala at calcala@sacbee.com)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

 

 

 

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