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Bid to replace July 4 fireworks with drones ends in frustration

Devastated by wildfires last year and with ongoing dry weather increasing the risk of further blazes, communities around Lake Tahoe made the decision to swap fireworks for drones for this year’s Fourth of July celebrations.

With fireworks causing thousands of accidental fires every year on July 4, local residents are all too aware that the fire risk is even higher when the ground is so dry.

The situation prompted organizers to switch to drones for dazzling light displays at Lake Tahoe’s Kings Beach on Sunday, July 3, and again in Tahoe City on Monday, July 4.

But sadly, like age-old fireworks, the modern flying machines are not immune to the forces of extreme weather, with strong winds in the area prompting planners to postpone both events.

In a release announcing that the displays would now take place on Labor Day in September, Tony Karwowski of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association said the decision to call off the display “did not come easily,” explaining: “Unfortunately, the predicted wind models haven’t changed over the past several days, and reports indicate a 98% probability the drones will be unable to fly over the lake on July 3 and July 4 within safe operational limits.”

A drone display at Incline Village on the lake’s north shore is, however, going ahead, as the display’s location at the middle school ball fields has less exposure to the wind gusts that are forecast to occur along the North Lake Tahoe shoreline.

Prior to the postponements, Karwowski said: “Celebrating Independence Day with entertaining light shows continues to be important to our communities, however, our priority is to balance that intention with the need to take care of Lake Tahoe and reduce the risks that lit fireworks pose,” adding that they were “excited to support something new.”

Katie Biggers, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association , noted that fireworks “come with their own list of known environmental impacts, including noise pollution, impacts to the lake, and increased risk of fire at a time when the wildfire risk is already so high.”

She said the decision had been made to switch to “an eco-friendly alternative to fireworks … in an effort to protect and preserve the place that we all love to live, work, play and visit.”

Advancements in drone technology and software in recent years have led to a growing number of drone companies offering light shows using the autonomous flying machines.

Intel, for example, has earned a reputation for creating entertaining night-time shows using hundreds of drones laden with colorful LED lights. The displays are designed by humans who use specially made software that controls the drones’ flight to make them collectively create different images, shapes, and colors. And best of all, there’s zero risk of accidental fire.

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Trevor Mogg
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