By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Fourth of July will have less sparkle across the United States as some cities and towns banned the private use of fireworks and canceled public displays citing drought, wildfires, finances and even a flood.
"We're heartbroken," said Don Hill, a spokesman for the Austin, Texas Symphony Orchestra, whose annual fireworks display at Lady Bird Lake in the state capital has been canceled for the first time in the show's 35-year history because of drought. The event regularly draws more than 100,000 people.
In Arizona, following a sweep of wildfires, authorities have banned fireworks in numerous cities, from Flagstaff in the north to Tucson, Douglas and Sierra Vista in the south.
Nearby, in New Mexico, where wildfires have burned more than 700,000 acres this season and threaten the nation's preeminent nuclear testing complex, Governor Susana Martinez has said that there is "absolutely no reason to buy, sell or use personal fireworks."
"The potential consequences are simply too severe and the patriotic thing to do this Fourth of July is to attend a public fireworks display, or celebrate the Fourth fireworks free," Martinez said in a statement.
In Joplin, Missouri, where a devastating tornado hit on May 22, officials have banned fireworks in an area where debris is being removed because of the amount of combustible material there.
And in Mobile, Alabama, burn bans forced city leaders to move the public fireworks display from Battleship Memorial Park to a barge in Mobile Bay.
The nation's third largest city canceled the July 3 fireworks at the Taste of Chicago food festival because the city faces a substantial budget shortfall. But Chicago residents can still see fireworks at Navy Pier along Lake Michigan on July 2 and 4.
One town in Massachusetts was hit by not one, but two natural disasters forcing it to cancel fireworks. Old Sturbridge Village, a historical recreation and theme park in western Massachusetts said its fireworks launch site was flooded. The village looked into alternative launch sites but they had been damaged by tornadoes.
But the skies could be darkest over Texas, which has suffered the driest eight-month period since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the state climatologist. Officials in 233 of the state's 254 counties have banned fires as record dry conditions, 100-degree days and high winds have helped wildfires torch almost 3.2 million acres this year.
That included a February fire in the Texas Panhandle town of Amarillo that swept into the city and destroyed 70 homes. There will be no fireworks shows there. Fire officials said they could not risk tying up trucks and firefighters at a show, and they worried that even a small fire could quickly grow into a large blaze.
"The conditions right now in the Amarillo area are essentially a tinderbox," Fire Marshal Terrance McKinney told Reuters.
San Antonio and Lubbock are among the cities that have canceled their public shows.
In San Antonio, the annual fireworks display is normally held as part of a daylong series of holiday events, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff banned fireworks through July 5, citing "dry and dangerous fire conditions."
"We'll be here anyway," said Juan Sandoval, who was playing with his kids last week at Woodlawn Lake Park, where San Antonio's annual show is normally held. "It'll be fun, fireworks or no fireworks."
For Wayne Wildmon, the San Antonio-area fireworks ban is a blow to business. He runs Mister W Fireworks, which by state law is allowed to open only for the 10 days before the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve.
"The items we were planning on selling, for just a few days, are totally safe if used property," Wildmon said. "But the judge is apparently saying 'we know better than you.'"
In Lubbock, a Fourth of July parade, street dance and fair will go on, but because of a county burn ban, a public fireworks show will not. That is a disappointment for the group that spent a year planning the event, said Stephanie Nairn, executive director of the Fourth on Broadway celebration.
"The hardest part to me was coming home to my 6- and 9-year-old daughters and telling them that we weren't going to have fireworks," Nairn said.
Last year, the Lubbock celebration was canceled because of something that seems hard to even imagine this year -- rain.
(Writing by Corrie MacLaggan in Austin; Reporting by Elliott Blackburn in Lubbock, Deborah Quinn Hensel in Houston, Judy Wiley in Dallas, Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Tim Gaynor in Arizona, Zelie Pollon in New Mexico, Monique Fields in Alabama and Ros Krasny in Boston; Editing by Greg McCune)