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Fourth of July loses some of its pop

Those seeking the thrills of traditional Fourth of July fireworks could be sadly disappointed this year: Public displays and sales of boxed firecrackers are being canceled or scaled back across the nation, victims of a sluggish economy, wildfire fears and product shortages caused by a warehouse fire in China.

With Northern California already battling a string of wildfires, fire officials in Scotts Valley, south of San Jose, concluded that going ahead with the annual show would send the wrong message when residents have been asked to refrain from using tiny sparklers in their backyards.

Fire Chief Mike McMurry, who has worked in Scotts Valley for 31 years, could not recall another time when dry weather snuffed out the show.

"It’s all about the severity of the conditions right now," he said.

Aside from the fire danger, local governments also are short of money because of the slumping economy. Fireworks supplies are petering out, too, because China is running short of ports from which to ship the dangerous cargoes abroad.

In the Las Vegas Valley, a popular fireworks show, the "Red, White and Boom" fireworks and music festival at Desert Breeze Park on Spring Mountain Road, has been canceled for the second consecutive year by Clark County officials because of budget woes.

The show attracted as many as 25,000 people in the past. The event cost the county about $250,000.

Some fireworks vendors said Wednesday that it was too soon to determine whether the economic downturn had affected sales. Their busiest days will be today and Friday.

Jeff Dunn Sr., who has sold fireworks for the past five years, said he typically raises between $1,500 and $2,800 for a Boy Scout troop.

Dunn said he hopes that people staying home will invest in fireworks.

"We’re all hurting for a dollar," Dunn said while working at his stand at the intersection of Buffalo Drive and Washington Boulevard. "So you might as well stay home and spend what you got on your kids."

A few miles away, at Lake Mead Boulevard and Tenaya Way, David Amati said business has been slower than usual. Amati has sold fireworks for four years. He said his most profitable year was in 2004, when he raised more than $4,000 for a softball league.

Amati blames the slow business on the economic downturn.

"It’s definitely the economy and gas," he said, referring to soaring fuel costs. "But I won’t know until Friday night how good or bad of a year this is."

In Texas, four parched counties obtained emergency declarations prohibiting the sale of personal fireworks. In Massachusetts, several towns said fewer donations from corporate sponsors made it too expensive to mount local celebrations.

The average aerial display lasts about 15 minutes and costs $10,000. Larger cities spend about $100,000 for bigger shows.

Some shows booked well in advance might be shorter than usual and have fewer pyrotechnic effects. To avoid cancellations, some companies dug into their inventories and paid more to get products from other suppliers.

The vast majority of Independence Day blazes are sparked by amateurs igniting illegal fireworks such as Roman candles and M80s. Officials in many drought-stricken areas of the West and Southeast decided the risk was too great this year to put fireworks in the hands of anyone but professionals.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has urged residents not to buy fireworks from roadside stands and asked local governments to consider banning their sale.

The Kiwanis Club of Mariposa, Calif., a town about 70 miles northwest of Fresno, canceled its fireworks show because firefighters were using the county fairgrounds as a staging area to contain a blaze that has blackened more than 2,700 acres. Last month, the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia, Calif., canceled its nightly fireworks shows for the entire summer.

The price of commercial fireworks shot up this year because of an explosion in China’s port of Sanshui that destroyed 20 fireworks warehouses and caused Chinese officials to stop shipping fireworks out of the port because of safety concerns.

That left only the smaller port of Beihai open for shipment of professional-grade fireworks, making it harder for U.S. vendors to obtain shipments from the nation that supplies the United States with 80 percent of its professional and 98 percent of its consumer fireworks.

Struggles for the $930 million fireworks industry won’t end on July 4 because security surrounding the Olympics in Beijing will create an even bigger shipping problem.

The port of Shanghai, which handles consumer fireworks, shut down Monday through at least the end of August to ensure security for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 8.

Cities and private groups that didn’t have to pay more for upcoming Fourth of July shows can expect price increases, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

"It’s going to put a crunch on our New Year’s and Christmas season," Heckman said.

Review-Journal writer Antonio Planas contributed to this report.

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