July 3, 2008

Storms, Costly Gas Put Crimp in 4th

By Emily Bazar

From thunderstorms to firestorms, weather and natural disasters are threatening to derail travel plans and fireworks shows this Fourth of July weekend.

"There will be a threat of showers and thunderstorms" across the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the weekend, which could delay flights, National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Sullivan says.

Through the weekend, the military will open its training routes to commercial flights off the East Coast to navigate around storms.

Bad weather also could interfere with fireworks shows, but the biggest threat to fireworks may be fire.

Guadalupe County near San Antonio is in a severe drought. The county banned the sale or use of all fireworks except public shows.

"We're not anti-celebration, we're not anti-fireworks," says Dan Kinsey, the county's emergency management coordinator. "There's a lot of dead grass and a lot of dead vegetation out there. Those are easily ignitable."

In California, where more than 1,100 fires rage, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged local leaders to ban fireworks sales if necessary.

Some Northern California cities have postponed public displays.

In Red Bluff, the fireworks show is a tradition enjoyed by most of the town's 14,000 residents, Fire Chief Gerry Gray says. The show has been tentatively rescheduled for Sept. 20. He has had complaints, he says, but "the vast majority of people understand that during drastic times, we have to take drastic measures.

"We've had very poor air quality and our firefighting resources have been stretched thin. We just felt like it was the prudent thing ... to allow the air to clear up a little and allow things to settle down."

Revelers without a local fireworks show on the Fourth can watch the National Symphony Orchestra concert at the U.S. Capitol, ending with fireworks on the National Mall in Washington. It will air live on PBS, 8-9:30 p.m. ET.

AAA predicts that skyrocketing gasoline prices will keep people closer to home.

Gas prices hit another record Wednesday when the average cost for a gallon of regular was $4.09, AAA spokesman Troy Green says. "A year ago, we were looking at $2.95," he says.

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