It's Too Hot and Dry for Fourth of July Fireworks in the Southwest

New Mexico, Utah cities are prohibiting the celebratory explosives to fend off wildfires amid bone-dry conditions – and residents are okay with it.
Image: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As record-breaking drought grips the Southwest US, cities and states are gearing up for an unusual fourth of July: one without fireworks. 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is one of a handful of legislators across the region, currently plagued by sparse rainfall and temperatures in the 100s, to call for a halt on fireworks sales ahead of the federal holiday. Other places went further: Mandan, North Dakota and Garfield County, Colorado have both banned fireworks (although there will still be an official Fourth of July fireworks display in Mandan, with firefighters on standby), and Utah Governor Spencer Cox has prohibited the displays on state land. Cities in Utah, such as Eagle Mountain and Park City, have adopted bans of their own. Meanwhile, some residents have called for a statewide ban on fireworks ahead of the holiday.


“Because it is so dry, I am pleading with you,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox said during a virtual town hall, urging residents to skip private fireworks displays on Tuesday night. “I can’t tell you right now if there is going to be a statewide ban, but what I can tell you is that we need you. It’s just not worth it this year.”  

The bans are just one of countless consequences of this year’s drought–which the US Bureau of Reclamation has called the worst in 44 years–ravaging California, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and surrounding areas. Bone-dry conditions have led to water shortages and excessive heat warnings and forced legislators throughout the region to make a series of tough calls, including rationing water and asking farmers not to plant

Though an honored annual American tradition this time of year, fireworks displays are increasingly becoming a liability as drought and wildfire seasons grow in length and severity due to climate change. A recent study from the University of Arizona found that the average longest dry period in the American West has grown from 20 to 32 days over the last half-century, while total annual rainfall has declined by 0.4 inches. This trend is one that other scientists have called a “megadrought”–a drought period spanning multiple decades–that’s the worst on record in 1,200 years. 


Dry, brittle conditions make trees and grasses particularly vulnerable to catching on fire, especially around explosives. Nearly 20,000 fires reported to US fire departments in 2018 were tied to fireworks, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. The same year saw 9,100 injuries and five deaths tied to their use. 

Even so, Eagle Mountain, Utah mayor Tom Westmoreland said in an interview that the decision to ban fireworks was a difficult one, especially as COVID restrictions continue to lift and large gatherings become more commonplace. 

“We have a lot of kids here, our children appreciate sparklers and fireworks,” he said. “We're patriots, we enjoy holidays and celebrating as much as anyone. And there are other ways for us to do that.” 

This is not the first time record heat has forced US communities to go without their celebratory explosives. New Mexico issued similar orders amid droughts last year; other parts of the West did the same in 2016; as did states in the South in 2011, to name a few. Now a regular occurrence, the pattern of scattered fireworks prohibitions are a sign that these intentional explosions may soon be untenable in some regions as climate change accelerates. 

Environmentalists and residents of drought-stricken areas alike have voiced their support for fireworks bans under emergency weather conditions on social media.

“In New Mexico we have a real drought crisis,” one user tweeted on Tuesday. “There should be no question.  People should respect fire enough to not use them.” 

“Truly nothing could be stupider than to use fireworks in New Mexico during this drought,” another user wrote. 

Since issuing the restriction last night, Westmoreland said constituent support has been strong. 

“People understand, and they do appreciate the concern for their safety,” he said. “We're disappointed, but we want to be safe as well.”