Some cities across the U.S. are opting for drone shows instead of fireworks this year to celebrate the Fourth of July, citing the impact traditional pyrotechnics have on the environment.
Salt Lake City and Boulder have joined cities like Lake Tahoe —which is celebrating its second annual drone show this year— substituting loud, bombastic rockets with the quieter, environmentally-friendly drones.
What is a drone show?
Drone shows are aerial displays that use a fleet of drones —each fitted with brilliant LED lights— to create patterns, shapes and animated sceces in the sky. An alternative to traditional fireworks, the drones offer a customizable form of entertainment, according the drone company Sky Elements.
Drone shows have an advantage over fireworks for communities concerned over forest fires and other environmental impacts, Rick Boss, the president of Sky Elements Drone Shows, told CBS News. Compared with fireworks, he added, drone shows present significantly less risk.
“Less risk of fire, less risk of damage, less risk of injury,” he said. “When performing a drone show, we ensure no one is within our safety perimeter should a malfunction occur.”
The Texas-based company, known for its performances at the NCAA Men’s Final Four and the Grammys, has done over 500 drone shows with zero safety issues, Boss said.
“Drones leave no smoke or debris behind when performing,” he added. “We leave nothing behind but great memories.”
Are drone shows replacing fireworks?
Salt Lake City, Utah, kicked off the city’s Independence Day weekend with a drone show on Saturday. Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the new show was part of an effort to minimize “high fire danger” and “air quality concerns” caused by fireworks.
“As temperatures rise and fire danger increases, we must be conscientious of both our air quality and the potential for wildfires,” Mendenhall said in a press release.
Utah is currently one of the most wildfire-prone states in the country, with 800 to 1,000 wildfires occurring annually, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety. In 2018, there were 1,327 wildfires in Utah, with estimated damages of $13.4 million, the agency said.
Colorado also faces an increased threat of wildfires in the next 30 years, according to research from the nonprofit First Street Foundation. A report, published in 2022, found that nearly 1 million properties —or 40% of the state’s total— will have some wildfire risk through 2052. Of these, 85,000 properties will face at least a “moderate” risk —or having up to a 6% chance— of experiencing a wildfire during the next 30 years.
This risk of future is what prompted Boulder officials to announce the switch to drones on Facebook.
“The shift from traditional fireworks to drones was not an easy decision and based on a number of factors, including increased fire danger fueled by climate change,” they wrote. “While the show is going to be a bit different, it promises to be a fantastic show that aligns with our Sustainability, Equity and Resilience Framework.”
Boulder is just one of several communities in Colorado that plan to have drone shows to celebrate America’s independence. Castle Rock and Lakewood are also going firework-free,.
In a post on the Castle Rock website, officials highlighted the environmental impact that pyrotechnics can have.
“We know that many look forward to celebrating with fireworks; however, the fallout from a typical July 4 fireworks show poses a significant wildfire risk,” they wrote. “The dry summers we’ve experienced the past several years have created a high risk of wildfire and resulted in show cancellations.”
No everyone has been happy with the switch —for many, 4th of July is not complete without “bombs bursting in air.”
Some cities who adopted the high-tech drone displays in recent years have had to switch back.
Parker, Colorado,, but they’ve moved back to fireworks, citing a survey that found “a majority of respondents stated they would prefer to see fireworks on Independence Day.” Galveston, Texas, is also reverting to traditional fireworks after using drones last year.
That signature crackle and explosions is “definitely one of the missing aspects” of the ongoing drone shows versus fireworks debate, Sky Elements’ Boss told CBS News. That’s why they always recommend a soundtrack to go along with the drone show to “help fill in for the missing booms.”