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A Fourth of July Without Fireworks

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB


This last New Years Eve, the Napa Valley skies were ablaze with illegal fireworks. In the Winter, we’re less concerned about fires from stray fireworks, but nonetheless, they are illegal. Thinking ahead to the next Fourth of July and the controversy over dangerous Summertime fireworks, I’ve wondered if there are alternatives to our addiction to the explosive nighttime displays.


Our Independence Day celebrates America’s birthday, a celebration of the rich history of a proud, complex and rowdy country. The Fourth reminds us that we all have so much in common: the desire to blow things up.


Interesting, there’s a direct life-safety issue as well. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission an estimated 10,200 firework-related injuries occurred in 2022, with almost 7,500 of them occurring around the Fourth. No surprise.


July Fourth is selected to create stiff necks, terrify dogs and scramble fire trucks. With today’s fire safety requirements and energy sustainable demands, alternate methods of producing the Smoke and Glory are essential. Maybe laser light shows are our destiny. Architects and engineers have been using lasers for years to measure spaces, check foundations, read bar codes, provide surgery and music. So what about holiday “Sky Displays”?


Laser light displays can be a huge range of special effects with intense colors, up to one thousand feet above the audience. Any of us who have attended BottleRock or Oxbow music events know how low-level laser displays can highlight the event. As the laser shows become more complex and achieve high atmospheric dynamics, they can mimic the traditional or explore new frontiers. They can also display images, logos and advertising that could rival network TV. I’m not sure if we want to see Progressive Insurance ads in the sky but that’s something to consider. It’s time to make a change to a less disruptive, more eco-friendly alternative.



A laser display can be incredibly hypnotic and inspiring. Much as we love celebrating the 1814 Star-Spangled Banner with exploding rockets and red glare, the world has changed, and we are all trying to embrace a new future without dangerous explosives and carbon burning, that fireworks are all about.


The fireworks industry is transitioning to Sky Displays and also embracing drone shows of lit-up flying objects replacing the classic explosions. While the cost is currently high, the US Military is rapidly expanding the software and technology to make drones accessible to so many industries. Sometimes we forget our military’s inventive contributions such as GPS, the internet, microwave ovens, tampons (yeah, believe it!) and even silly putty. Your dollars at work!


A drone light show is a swarm of drones flying in formation, directed by a ground station using precession cadence to maintain constant location. Drone light shows can be in excess of 1,000 drones, and perform such things as dances, light effects, animations, and acrobatics All drone pilots in the U.S. are now required to operate their drones according to FAA Remote ID rules. The brightest and best illuminated drone is the Lumenier ARORA and is the Taylor Swift of drone light shows.


The cost of a drone show varies enormously. So far, I have not found a single company in California. They all seem to be in the Midwest but perform all over our State. A municipality could pay between $12,000 and $15,000 for a small drone light show of 25 drones. The costs goes up from there, and a drone light show with 1,000 drones could easily cost nearly $500,000.


An alternative on the horizon is combining drones with lasers to create 3-D shows. Rather than individual drones, creating individual pixels, look to multiple drones airborne to create a smoke screen for 3D laser projected shows. A Hungarian company, CollMot Robotics Ltd, is pioneering aerial laser and drone projection fireworks. We will keep track of them. If you’re wondering why I’d address this in our cold and rainy Winter, maybe it’s something to consider before it’s too late for this upcoming Fourth. Or maybe thinking of Summer’s lazy days is good for our winter weary souls.


Chris d Craiker Architect NCARB believes some traditions just have to be tweaked, not killed

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