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By Eryka Forquer

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and case numbers decline across the state, Orange County cities look to transition back to traditional Fourth of July festivities with their annual fireworks shows this coming Sunday.

During the midst of the pandemic last year, many city officials made the decision to cancel their fireworks display or prohibit public attendance at events, and instead offer a livestreamed version of the show.

However, the June 15 reopening of California has permitted cities to plan and budget for fireworks and other community celebrations this year.

For the upcoming Fourth of July, San Juan Capistrano residents can celebrate with a three-day carnival at the sports park that opens on Friday, July 2. The carnival will feature live music, games, exhibit booths, food and alcohol.

“We are all hoping for a great turnout,” Senior Management Analyst Matisse Reischl said.

In lieu of its carnival last Fourth of July, San Juan residents participated in a front porch decorating contest in which councilmembers judged and awarded the grand prize winner a bike from local store Buy My Bikes.

While the city previously hosted a drive-in fireworks show at the park, people are encouraged to attend this year’s display in-person. A video will be played before the event begins at 9 p.m. to help welcome back the community.

“We do a welcome video before the fireworks display that some of our councilmembers participate in,” Reischl said of the San Juan event. “It’s just a nice message to the community wishing them a happy Fourth of July. Some of our councilmembers will likely be in attendance to deliver a few remarks before the show and welcome the community back to a fun, in-person event.”

With COVID-19 restrictions lifted, traditional Fourth of July fireworks displays and other festivities will be held in the three South County cities of San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano this coming Sunday. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

The city of San Clemente is also looking to return to its annual Independence Day celebration with its fireworks display at the Municipal Pier. The city made the decision to hold its fireworks show at the Vista Hermosa Sports Park last year, livestreaming the event on YouTube without in-person spectators, to help prevent the spread of COVID.

“The decision this year came from the city council,” Recreation Manager Samantha Wylie said. “They brought it up in one of their meetings, and they felt that it needed to be back at the pier.”

“Compared to last year, we are in such a different climate this year, related to the state’s different health orders and emergency orders that were in place in 2020,” Wylie continued. “So, there are different opportunities available, and this was a priority for the council.”

In preparation for the 20-minute fireworks display, the pier will close at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and remain closed for the day. Pedestrian access to the beach will also be prohibited 1,000 feet in both directions of the pier to ensure the public’s safety from the fallout of the fireworks.

“The Fourth of July is a big holiday for not only the residents of San Clemente, but it also brings thousands of people down to the beach and down to San Clemente’s downtown area to do business at and to dine out at,” Wylie said. “It’s certainly one of our more popular events that brings out a lot of people.”

The city’s trolley will be in service from 10 a.m.-11p.m. to assist with parking, while nighttime traffic restrictions will include the closure of the Avenida Palizada exit on Interstate 5, as well as some blocks of Avenida Victoria.

In addition to the fireworks display, San Clemente residents can view four AT-6 aircraft World War II trainers as they fly along the coast during a flyover by the Condor Squadron. The flyover will begin in Huntington Beach and end in San Clemente, where it is estimated they will pass over the city between 5:55 and 6 p.m.

Another coastal Orange County city that is bringing back its annual Independence Day celebration is Dana Point. The city’s firework display, which is commonly regarded as one of the largest in South Orange County, will be even bigger this year.

The city council approved more than 2,000 additional shells for this year’s show, which will be used to provide a more impressive display.

During the show, 6,291 shells will be fired off the barge and accompanied by patriotic music streaming from Saddleback College’s radio station. Spectators can view the show from spots across the Dana Point coastline, including two of the more popular locations: Doheny State Beach and Dana Point Harbor.

In past years, the fireworks display has attracted crowds with as many as 200,000 people. People in neighboring cities and across South Orange County come to Dana Point to watch the 20-minute display. Since the city’s fireworks show was canceled last year, Mayor Jamey Federico said the council and community are excited for this year’s show.

“We’re very happy to be able to put it on,” Federico said. “We hope everybody has a fantastic time celebrating the Fourth of July, and we’re very excited about putting COVID behind us and getting back to normal.”

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