- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The skies over many neighborhoods will light up with explosive fireworks displays for the first time since 2019 this Fourth of July weekend, even though supply issues and wildfires will dampen celebrations in some communities.

Booming, bright and colorful pyrotechnics are planned for New York City’s East River, Chicago’s Navy Pier, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and the National Mall in Washington.

“This is our first normal and traditional Fourth of July in a couple of years,” said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. “I think we’ll see more people.”

Mr. Litterst said the National Park Service will not be “messaging” people about masks and social distancing.

Fireworks displays nationwide this year are expected to exceed the 16,000 in 2019, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

“The demand is 110%, and every small town is having a celebration,” Ms. Heckman said. “This year, we’re celebrating not just our pride and patriotism but our independence from the pandemic.”

Still, the association said some bulk shipments of industrial-grade fireworks from China — the world’s largest supplier — did not reach the West Coast in time for the Fourth of July.

The professional fireworks display industry lost 90% of its annual revenue in 2020, forcing furloughs of most employees. Ms. Heckman said the industry recovered 60% of its Independence Day revenue last year and is now working to meet a “demand exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”

Shortages of production, labor and raw materials, plus shipping delays from China, are limiting some celebrations. The risk of wildfires has led some Western cities to call off their shows.

In Arizona, Phoenix has canceled its three shows because of a lack of supplies and Flagstaff will host a light show instead of fireworks to avoid sparking a wildfire.

Lori Welty, chief financial officer of Fireworks Productions of Arizona, said her company lost about 20 displays — including the Phoenix shows — because of delays in shipments from China.

“Some of our customers, like the city of Phoenix, just canceled their shows altogether,” Ms. Welty said. “Others changed their dates to July 1-3 and found other companies.”

California officials have canceled shows in Sacramento, Lompoc and the San Joaquin Valley for similar reasons. Shows have been canceled in Montana and Minneapolis for reasons that also include a lack of volunteers and pyrotechnicians to run the shows.

Nevertheless, most cities are pressing forward with celebrations.

Spielbauer Fireworks of Wisconsin, which will stage Green Bay’s fireworks show on Monday, has received only about 20% to 25% of what it needs from China.

The company will have just 30 varieties of multishot “cake devices,” some of which have been in storage, instead of the usual 200 for big aerial effects.

“We have enough in stock to get us through this year, but it’s not ideal,” said Steve Norby, a fireworks facilitator at Spielbauer. “We got lucky because we carry a big inventory.”

Shipping costs are up about 25% for supplies from China, he said.

With shipping and other expenses, fireworks that used to cost $13,000 per container now cost $50,000. To cope, and to try to recover from the lean pandemic years, Spielbauer is charging $14,000 for a show that cost $10,000 last year.

“Like everything, we have to pass the costs down to the consumer,” Mr. Norby said.

For nonprofessional revelers, prices of consumer-grade fireworks are up about 35%, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. China provides 99% of America’s consumer fireworks, Ms. Heckman said.

Suppliers are reporting a large demand for both industrial and consumer fireworks.

The U.S. imported 185 million pounds of fireworks during the first four months of the year, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. International Trade Commission’s DataWeb. That compares with 255.8 million pounds of fireworks imported in all of 2019, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Economists say China’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns have contributed to the shortages and rising costs.

“Thanks to communism, expect your celebration of freedom to be costlier and perhaps less booming this year,” said Joel Griffith, a financial regulations research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Some point out that Americans don’t need explosives to celebrate Independence Day.

John R. Hendrickson, policy director at the Tax Education Foundation of Iowa, recommends family picnics and community parades to make the Fourth of July a “time of celebration and reflection” about “those who have sacrificed to preserve liberty.”

“With or without fireworks, we can still celebrate Independence Day by spending time reflecting on our history and the principles that created our liberty,” Mr. Hendrickson said.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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