Fourth of July showdown: Are drone shows stealing the show from fireworks?

Many towns and cities are opting for drone shows this Fourth of July. They pose less risk of wildfire, are less triggering to certain groups, including veterans, and they are just as creative, experts say.

PARK CITY, Utah — As more major cities and municipalities opt for drone shows over fireworks to bedazzle the skies on the Fourth of July, the question may not be if drone shows will be the future of our sky-oriented celebrations, but when will fireworks become a thing of the past?

Locally, towns have opted for a mix of fireworks and drone shows this year. Park City has opted to put on a drone show again this year instead of fireworks, and Canyons Village at Park City Mountain will be holding two nights of fireworks and four nights of drone shows at Forum Fest over the Fourth of July holiday. In Oakley, there will be a fireworks show following each night of the Oakley rodeo and fireworks are planned in both Heber and Midway on the 4th.

Downtown Los Angeles took a big leap last year and replaced its fireworks show with a drone show, joining Salt Lake City, New York, and San Francisco. A growing number of municipalities and other entities—corporations like Disney and many major sports leagues—are incorporating drone shows into their holiday festivities and other events, whether alongside fireworks or instead of them.

The shift from traditional fireworks to drone shows is driven by several factors, including safety, environmental concerns, and creative potential. Unlike fireworks, drones pose no risk of fires and reduce the chances of accidents. This safety aspect is particularly appealing in areas prone to wildfires, like many parts of Utah, where fireworks have been a significant hazard.

“As temperatures rise and fire danger increases, we must be conscientious of both our air quality and the potential for wildfires,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told Fox News last summer.

For many people, including veterans and people who have been involved in a traumatic event like a mass shooting, the loud noises from fireworks shows can be particularly triggering.

One local veteran, John, is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. He shared his experience with TownLift from July 5th, 2023.

“Fireworks cause a physical and mental reaction in which I lose control of my body. It involves shaking, crying, and, most often, physically collapsing. Last year was the first time I ever ran (hysterically) towards the fireworks in an attempt to stop them,” he said.

On the 5th of July, neighbors were setting off fireworks, which caught John completely off-guard. Once the people setting off the fireworks saw what was happening, they stopped, John said, but not before he was crawling on his hands and knees toward the sagebrush to reach a safe place.

This year, John said, he is preparing for the local fireworks show by trying to evade it.

“The Utah Department of Safety published a list of towns and areas and their respective firework codes. Some areas do not allow fireworks, so perhaps going there and hoping people abide by the ordinance is one course of action,” he said.

Another population that dreads the holiday? Our four-legged friends, which can be problematic for their owners. Many dogs need to be crated during fireworks, some can’t be left alone, and others simply shake in fear.

A dog can hear much higher frequencies than humans can and can detect sounds from four times farther away. So, fireworks that sound distant to you sound a lot closer to a dog.

Creatively, drone shows offer a huge range of versatility. Hundreds or even thousands of drones can be precisely choreographed to create intricate patterns, animations, and images in the sky. These displays can be synchronized with music and other effects that provide a dynamic and immersive experience that traditional fireworks cannot match.

While some traditionalists may miss the nostalgic bang and sparkle of fireworks, the growing popularity of drone shows suggests a significant shift in public preference. As technology continues to advance, drone displays are likely to become an even more integral part of festive celebrations, setting a new standard for how we light up the night sky on Independence Day.

Below is a video of the Canyons drone show on July 4th, 2023. It was put on by FireFly Drone Shows.

Editor’s Note: Army Veteran John was quoted in this story about his negative experience with fireworks. He asked that we not publish his last name. While it is standard to use people’s full names in TownLift stories, in this case, we chose not to out of discretion for privacy. 

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