ST. LOUIS • From surging floodwaters to runaway barges, Fair St. Louis pyrotechnicians have faced many risks throughout the years. Fire, however, has not been one of them. That's one upside to launching explosives from the middle of the Mississippi River.
Fair St. Louis and some other river-launched displays are among the few fireworks shows still scheduled this week. The relentless heat and dry conditions have forced a growing number of municipalities to suspend their shows.
"From that distance, it's highly unlikely any burning embers would reach land," said Fair St. Louis spokesman Bob Schenk. "That being said, we are coordinating with the fire departments on both sides of the river just to be safe because there is dry brush on the banks."
Schenk can only speculate how the growing list of canceled shows and the heat will affect attendance at Fair St. Louis, where the Wednesday night fireworks show will boast more than 2,000 shells.
"I'm not sure if we will see bigger crowds because other shows have been canceled or if our numbers will be smaller because of the heat," Schenk said. "But we're comfortable that we can handle a lot of people. It's a big area, and when you consider the areas outside the fairgrounds like the Old Courthouse, there is space for everyone."
The Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the east riverfront also will be open during Fair St. Louis and will offer great views of the fireworks.
St. Charles Riverfest, which launches its fireworks from a Missouri River barge, still plans to shoot off fireworks, as does Alton, which will launch its show Tuesday night near the Mississippi River.
One challenge will be helping attendees stay as cool as possible. Many festivals this week will be staffed with medical personnel to treat any overheated visitors. Fair St. Louis will have three emergency tents, Metro cooling buses and misting stations.
Fair St. Louis bans coolers, but visitors can bring an unsealed and empty water bottle to be filled at free water stations throughout the Arch grounds. Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park permits visitors to bring coolers and water bottles, though glass containers are banned.
"Some people may decide it's just too hot," Schenk said. "Decide what is right for you. Maybe you come down for the parade and the air show and come back later for the fireworks."
The hottest July 4 on record is 102 degrees in 1990. That year, Fair St. Louis lost about $400,000 in concession revenue. Lower attendance was partially to blame, but even those revelers who toughed out the heat lacked the appetite for funnel cakes and grilled meat.
The current heat wave began Wednesday with a high of 99 degrees, with high temperatures at or over 100 since, and with records set on three days. The worst was Thursday, when the temperature hit 108 — the hottest in St. Louis since 1954.
Scattered thunderstorms on Monday helped contain the high to 100. That meant, just barely, the fifth straight day of triple-digit temperatures.
There have been only 14 periods of five or more consecutive days of 100-degree temperatures in St. Louis since 1874, when the National Weather Service began keeping reliable records. The worst was in 1936, when there were 13 consecutive triple-digit days.
For now, the stifling heat is going nowhere. The weather service forecasts highs in the triple digits through the weekend.
The heat wave has already claimed three victims, authorities said. The city medical examiner's office identified the three dead from heat-related illnesses as:
• Willie Hall, 80, of the 2000 block of East College Avenue, who was found in his second-story bedroom at 4:20 p.m. Saturday. His window air conditioner was not in use.
• Judith Reed, 74, of the 400 block of North Fourth Street, who was found in her bedroom at 10 a.m. Saturday. The central air system in her apartment was in working condition but not in use.
• Orena Brown, 83, of the 5900 block of Mimika Avenue, who was found at 8 a.m. Sunday in her living room. Her residence has a window air conditioner that was "not cooling well," according to the medical examiner.
Area health departments urge people to check on their older relatives and neighbors to ensure that air conditioners are working properly and in use, or to get them to shelter that has cooling. Last summer, 19 people died in the St. Louis area of heat-related illness.
Meanwhile, officials continue to warn residents about the dangers of fireworks in such hot and dry conditions. On Monday, fire and police chiefs across St. Charles County held a news conference to urge residents to refrain from using fireworks, whether in an area where they're legal or not. The chiefs also asked people to not use barbecue pits or campfires to avoid sparking grass fires.
Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.