Western US cities are scrapping July 4 fireworks because of wildfires. So they’re using drones instead

Posted at 11:20 AM, Jul 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-04 13:20:30-04

By Jessica Campisi and Brandon Griggs, CNN

Cities and towns across the drought-stricken western US are skipping Fourth of July fireworks because of fears they could spark wildfires.

But that's not keeping these communities from being lit for the holiday.

Instead of fireworks, municipalities in California, Arizona and Colorado will illuminate the night skies with drones equipped with LED lights.

Officials made the switch amid concerns that fireworks mixed with high temperatures, dry air and windy conditions pose too big a threat to areas already being ravaged by wildfires.

In Fairfield, California, roughly 500 Intel drones will create a free light show at the Travis Air Force Base, according to CNN affiliate KTXL.

And multiple Arizona towns, including Carefree and Cave Creek, will have a smaller show using 30 airborne drones, CNN affiliate KNXV reported.

In Aspen, Colorado, as many as 60 custom-made drones will decorate the mountain-filled skyline for an audience of thousands.

Deb Braun heads the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which organized the town's show. Aspen didn't get fireworks last year because of poor conditions, so this year had to be different, she said.

"In a beautiful resort town like Aspen -- where people have been coming for the Fourth of July for years -- it's a special feeling, and to end with fireworks really solidifies that," she said.

How the drones work

Intel's drones arelarge LED lightsstrapped with propellers and sensors.

The equipment is controlled by computer software that decides where they fly and which ones are lit up at a given time.

Each drone communicates individually with the main computer, and GPS and precision flying keep drones from bumping into each other, KTXL reported.

The drones themselves are very small -- weighing in at under a pound -- but come with a big inventory. Each can create over 4 billion color combinations, according to Intel.

But just like their sparkling alternative, drones need certain conditions for the show to go on.

If there's too much wind or rain, tonight's show will get postponed, Braun told CNN.

"It'll be a nail-biter until the very end," Braun said. "Fingers crossed, it'll be a fabulous show."

They've been used for light shows before

This Fourth of July won't mark the first appearance for LED-lit drones.

The little aircraft made an appearance in a record-breaking display at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Over 1,200 of the machines put on a pre-recorded light show that created images of a snowboarder and the Olympic rings in the sky.

Lady Gaga's 2017 Super Bowl halftime show also featured hundreds of lit-up drones.

Aspen's Braun thinks they'll continue to get used in the future. They might even replace fireworks, she said.

"I think this could be the new norm," she said.