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Experts Recommend Leaving The Fireworks Unlit This 4th Of July

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Fire scientists have a message for anyone celebrating Fourth of July in the western U.S. Skip the fireworks this year. More than 100 researchers say drought and dry weather have turned the region into a tinderbox, and a bottle rocket spark could set it off. Sam Brasch of Colorado Public Radio reports.

SAM BRASCH, BYLINE: Philip Higuera teaches fire ecology at the University of Montana. He likes to project a graph showing the start date for U.S. wildfires.

PHILIP HIGUERA: The Fourth of July sticks out like a just super-sore thumb. When I show it to students in my classes, everybody kind of chuckles.

BRASCH: The spike is particularly remarkable for fires started near homes. As the summer picks up, the total number of U.S. fires slowly rises until it, well, skyrockets on July 4. Higuera says that's especially worrisome this year.

HIGUERA: Because so many regions across the West are experiencing this record-setting drought followed by record-setting heat wave, and that just has any vegetation really primed for easy ignition.

BRASCH: It's a pattern consistent with human-caused climate change. Jennifer Balch is a fire researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder. She says limiting ignition sources like fireworks is one of the few immediate ways to protect people.

JENNIFER BALCH: It's hard to address climate change, but we can really make a dent in the ignitions because that's the piece that we have a little bit of control over right now.

BRASCH: Cat Caruso, a spokesperson for the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest, is pushing a similar message after the region's historic heat wave.

CAT CARUSO: The No. 1 thing we want to let people know for the Independence Day weekend is to leave the fireworks at home.

BRASCH: The Forest Service already prohibits fireworks, but Caruso worries people might be more inclined to light them off this year as many communities have canceled their public fireworks displays.

CARUSO: This is not the time to get complacent. There's still an awful lot of risk out there.

BRASCH: In Arizona, some national forests are simply closed due to fire danger, and the National Interagency Fire Center says most of the country's firefighting resources are already deployed. The fire scientists say it could all be a new normal for July 4 in the American West, and it's time people think about how to adjust their celebrations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.