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July 3, 2014

Drought won't stop fireworks in dry western states

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Arizona's largest city has gone four months without any measurable rain, and neighboring New Mexico is in the midst of four years of severe drought.

But you'll still see and hear fireworks sparkle and pop during the days around July 4, despite the dangerously high threat of wildfires.

While some places in the West ban fireworks altogether, or greatly limit what you can light off when conditions are ripe for fire, other states are going in the opposite direction.

Arizona actually loosened its restrictions this year and is now allowing residents of the two most populated cities to set off fireworks in the days around Independence Day, and an effort by the New Mexico governor to impose tougher rules during dry times has repeatedly fallen on deaf ears in the Legislature.

Some lawmakers chalk it up to statehouse politics, while others say it's politicians' reluctance to impose more regulations and take away the cherished tradition of setting off fireworks, even in severe droughts.

Phil Griego, a northern New Mexico rancher and a Democratic state senator, said the pastures around his village are so dry that the grass crunches under the hooves of horses and cattle when ranchers move the animals from one field to the next.

Griego tried during this year's legislative session to pass a measure that would have updated New Mexico's fireworks laws to give cities and counties more authority to ban fireworks when fire danger is high. Political wrangling stalled the measure in the Democrat-controlled Senate despite bipartisan support from lawmakers, fire chiefs around the state and Republican Gov. Susan Martinez, who has been pushing since 2011 for changes to the law.

"This is critical because I don't think this drought and this situation we're in right now is going to pass any time soon," Griego said. "For this year, it's done and over, but we've got to start working on next year. We've got to have protections. Look at the fires that are taking place now with just lightning strikes."

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