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

Posted at 2:24 PM, Jul 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-04 14:24:43-04

Intel Shooting Star drones create a U.S. flag during 2018 Independence Day celebration rehearsals on June 28 at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
Full Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Conrad

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.

Multiple Arizona towns, including Carefree and Cave Creek, will hold light shows using 30 airborne drones, CNN affiliate KNXV reported.

And in Aspen, Colorado, as many as 60 custom-made drones will light up the mountain setting for an expected audience of thousands.

Deb Braun heads the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which organized the show. Aspen didn’t have 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 are large LED lights strapped 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.

A 500-drone Fourth of July show at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, was postponed because of high winds, Intel spokesman Jason Farrell told CNN Wednesday. The show will now take place on July 5, weather permitting.

And if there’s too much wind or rain, tonight’s show in Aspen also 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.