A girl cools off under a fountain in Washington. (Reuters)
Washington, July 4: Americans observed their 236th independence day in an uncharacteristically low-key fashion today with millions of people in its mid-west to mid-Atlantic region baking in scorching temperatures without electricity or air-conditioning for the fifth day running.
In the country’s western parts, the mood is sombre with wildfires having destroyed 2.2 million acres of land, including some of America’s most picturesque locations, so far this year.
Spectacular fireworks displays in communities large and small which are the concluding highlight of day-long celebrations have been cancelled across the US on this independence day for fear that exceptionally dry conditions in many states may accidentally cause fresh fires from pyrotechnics.
Barbecues and picnics which are integral to July 4 celebrations have also been far less than usual this year: record temperatures have made outdoors unbearable on the east coast while the paranoia about fires prompted authorities in many towns to restrict the use of grills in public places, including state and national parks.
Instead, the city government in Washington, for instance, has been distributing free food in community kitchens to people who have been unable to cook at home for nearly a week because of lack of power supply.
On the Atlantic coast, temperatures between 37 to 39 degrees Celsius were expected later today at the time of writing, but humid conditions may raise the heat index value and weathermen warned that it might feel as if the temperature is in excess of 40 or up to 42 degrees in some locations.
In the famed Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park which is larger than the combined area of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware, park authorities have banned campfires taking the zest out of the traditional camping season which falls at this time. The park has up to 2,000 camp sites.
Despite the mammoth size of land under wildfires, loss lives have not been very high, pointing to efficient evacuation of people from the affected states. But firefighters have been unable to prevent damage to property, an indication of their daunting task.
In Colorado alone, 600 houses, some of them built with great care and with ultimate aesthetic considerations along the picturesque Rocky Mountains have been reduced to ashes. The great tragedy of the ongoing fires is that in states like Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon, spectacular tracts of land and vegetation may be lost to humankind forever.
On the National Mall in Washington, at the foot of Capitol Hill, the annual fireworks display, which draws tens of thousands of tourists from all over the US, pyrotechnics were to be held as scheduled at the time of writing.
In Manhattan too, the celebrated Macy’s fireworks over the Hudson river which attracts at least a million people along the riverfront and on top of the city’s skyscrapers, are planned according to their annual schedule at the time of writing.
At the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama was preparing a typical July 4 barbecue for military heroes and their families for the evening after which she and her husband will watch the fireworks from the South Lawn of their residence with the guests.
The following morning the President will switch back into campaign mode for his re-election and go on a two-day bus tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His Republican rival in the November election, Mitt Romney, took a break from holiday with his 30-member extended family at his lakeside mansion in New Hampshire to join the local independence day parade and later huddled with aides overseeing his vice-presidential candidate selection.