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Americans brave the scorching heat and celebrate the 4th of July with parades, barbecues and fireworks

By DAVID SHARP – Associated Press

This Fourth of July, it’s not just the burgers that are sizzling: millions of people are under heat warnings as many Americans have traveled to toast the birth of their nation with parades, barbecues and fiery splashes of color in the evening sky.

Travel records are expected to fall as people already clog airports and highways to get to their destinations ahead of the Fourth of July. Meanwhile, in the Western U.S., residents battled oppressive heat as the National Weather Service warned of a “significant and extremely dangerous” heat wave across much of the region.

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The number of fireworks displays – a staple of the holiday – was expected to reach new highs, with countless backyard displays and 16,000 professional shows lighting up the horizon from coast to coast.

“This is how we celebrate. It’s the bombs exploding in the air. It’s the red glow of the rockets. This is how people show their pride and patriotism,” said Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

All signs pointed to major celebrations: The Transportation Security Administration reported that nearly 3 million people traveled through airports in a single day last week — a record, and that number is expected to be surpassed this week. And AAA predicted that 60.6 million people will travel by car during the holidays. Part of the boost was attributed to easing inflation, although many Americans remain concerned about the economy.

In much of the west coast, residents have been advised to take precautions to avoid overheating over the holidays.

Temperatures were expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in coastal and inland areas of California, with heat extending into the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures were expected to exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in some desert areas of the Southwest. Hot, muggy conditions also prevailed in the Deep South and Mid-Atlantic.

The annual fireworks display in the Northern California city of Oroville was canceled as the growing Thompson Fire left some 26,000 residents homeless while hundreds of firefighters battled extreme heat to prevent the flames from spreading to more homes.

In suburban Chicago, Highland Park resumed its annual Independence Day parade on the second anniversary of a mass shooting that killed seven people and injured dozens in 2022. Residents gathered for a memorial ceremony at a middle school on Thursday before the holiday march, which followed a different route than in the past.

“The Fourth of July will always be a day of mixed emotions,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering. “We come here today in the hope that as a community we can remember and honor the lives lost.”

The holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence, which created a new country free from British rule, is traditionally celebrated with barbecues, cold drinks, the American flag on flagpoles and clothing, and parades. But Americans also celebrated in other ways that were unique to their communities.

Off the rocky coast in Down East, Maine, some wanted to take part in lobster boat races. Descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence rang the Liberty Bell 13 times in Philadelphia – once for each of the original colonies. The Californian communities of Bolinas and Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, held their annual tug-of-war contest, in which the losers end up in a lagoon.

And of course there is the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island in New York.

In Alaska, the town of Seward got a head start with a midnight fireworks display. Thousands of people gathered on a rocky beach to watch the fireworks during the brief period when the skies darken in the land of the midnight sun. The shells exploded over Resurrection Bay as people watched in silence. “It was absolutely magical,” said local resident Iris Woolfolk.

The Fourth of July is a holiday that generally unites Americans in their shared love for their country, but the 2024 edition comes against a backdrop of deep political polarization and a divisive presidential campaign.

In Boston, where tens of thousands were expected to attend the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, conductor Keith Lockhart said it was inspiring to see people of different political persuasions coming together on the Charles River Esplanade, but noted that “you’d have to have your head pretty deep in the sand not to see the deep divisions in our country.”

“These are indeed dangerous times,” he wrote in an email before the show. “If we can put aside our differences and embrace our commonalities, even for one day, that must be a positive thing.”

Associated Press writer John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, contributed to this report.

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