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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Scientists Say Fireworks And Fire Season Don't Mix

More than 150 scientists signed onto a letter urging people in the Western U.S. to avoid fireworks this Independence Day.

“The July 4th weekend in the United States this year will be like no other we’ve experienced in the nation’s history,” they wrote. “The extreme heat impacting the northwestern United States and Canada this week comes on top of an already record-setting drought across much of western North America.”

Fuel sources, like vegetation, are the driest we’ve ever recorded in some areas, according to University of Montana associate professor Alex Metcalf. The record-breaking heat wave makes things worse, and he said having the two issues converge on July 4th — a day when more unintentional fires are started than any other — could cause major problems.

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“A lot of fires are beneficial and do a lot of things that are helpful for us,” he said. “But the fires that are clearly bad are the ones that humans start near homes.”

And he said that happens a lot this time of year. More than 95% of wildfires that threaten homes are human-caused.

But the dangers likely won’t go away next year. Metcalf suggests finding new holiday traditions for Independence Day well into the future.

“This is not like the 4th of July of your youth,” he said. “Because of climate change, our conditions are getting warmer and drier.”

Philip Higuera, a fire ecology professor at the University of Montana, agreed. He said the West is already starting to pivot away from fireworks in the summer, and we should keep heading that direction.

“There are lots of efforts around the West to rethink how we celebrate this holiday,” he said. “Doing bans, suspending firework shows. Coming up with all sorts of different creative ways to celebrate that don’t start fires.”

Higuera said he’ll focus on traditions like parades and spending time with family instead.

Both Higuera and Metcalf wrote about their concerns in The Conversation.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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