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DROUGHT MAY TAKE FIREWORKS OUT OF FOURTH OF JULY.

Byline: DANA BARTHOLOMEW

Staff Writer

Cancel the Fourth of July -- at least the spectacular fireworks displays.

Record low rainfall and tinder-dry brush have caused the city of Burbank to scrub its fabled Fourth of July fireworks show, with Los Angeles prepared to follow suit.

Extreme drought conditions make it simply too dangerous to stage a fireworks show from the slopes of the Verdugo Mountains, Burbank city officials said Tuesday.

If conditions worsen, Los Angeles firefighters said they are poised to cancel similar fireworks spectaculars across the city, including the Hansen Dam show at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.

"Big disappointment, huge disappointment, I love fireworks," said Burbank fire Chief Tracy Pansini. "(But) we had to put the community and public safety ahead of our love of putting burning phosphorous into the air."

Burbank's Starlight Bowl, the traditional site of the pyrotechnic pop, will continue plans for a patriotic music show.

Southern California is on course for its driest year on record, with 3.21 inches of rain for downtown Los Angeles since July 1. Normal rainfall to date is 15.06 inches.

As a result, hillside brush moisture is well below even critical levels. Two unseasonal wildfires this spring torched more than 1,000 acres in Griffith Park.

The grass-covered Verdugos, soaring 2,400 feet above Burbank, is a fire waiting to happen, said Pansini, a former wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.

"Too dangerous, too dry, with no recovery in sight," he said. "That vegetation canopy up there is dead kindling."

As many as 23 fireworks shows are slated for across Los Angeles County, according to county fire Inspector Ed Lozano, whose agency does not regulate city fireworks shows.

But if factors that threaten wildfires worsen -- including heat, wind and brush conditions -- Los Angeles is prepared to cancel traditional fireworks shows across the city.

Planned fireworks shows at Hansen Dam and Dodger Stadium are both located in fire-prone areas.

"I have put the word out that any public displays of fireworks might be subject to cancellation ... if conditions get any worse," said Los Angeles Fire Marshall Jimmy Hill, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department and head of the Bureau of Fire Prevention and Public Safety.

"This is probably one of the most critical seasons I've experienced -- and it's been ongoing."

In the event fireworks will be fired, Hill said that 5-inch shells -- the biggest bangs at 500 feet -- will be eliminated. Only 4-inch shells, capable of soaring to lower altitudes, will be permitted. In addition, fire engines will be posted at each fireworks display.

While some Southern California cities are prepared to cancel or limit their Independence Day explosions, others say the shows must go on.

In Ventura County, Fillmore fire Chief Pete Egedi said the city will hold its traditional 20-minute show above a green high school baseball diamond in the center of town.

"Even if they were shot sideways, the shells wouldn't hit the mountains," he said. "We won't endanger the surrounding area."

In Simi Valley, the Fourth of July Extravaganza will be held at Rancho Santa Susana Park after a full day of family events.

"It will be held -- the show will go on," said Terry Marvin of the Rotary Club of Simi Valley, host of an extravaganza now in its 37th year. "It's huge; the whole community comes together. It's more than just fireworks."

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3730
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 30, 2007
Words:572
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