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Large crowds, alcohol and explosives

Mmm, smell the gunpowder on the breeze? That’s right, it’s time to pull out the folding chairs, coolers and burn kits because the Fourth of July is just around the corner.

As every red-blooded American knows, the Fourth is really only about one thing: blowing stuff up. And while many Portlanders might be tempted to frequent one of the countless firework tents now set up in the metro area, they can rest assured that there are more Independence Day options than simply sitting in their front yard and watching the neighbor’s dog chase malfunctioning firecrackers.

Instead, they can watch really big stuff blow up.

Fortunately, the Portland area offers an impressive array of firework displays, providing unique alternatives to at-home barbecues. From live entertainment to rides, some holiday events offer more than a simple evening firework show.

For those considering a close-in event, the Waterfront Blues Festival is hosting its annual fireworks display on the evening of the Fourth. Take the family, pack a picnic or bring cash; great food, beer and wine will be available. Fireworks don’t start until 10 p.m., but it’s recommended that people find seating shortly after seven. (Located at 1020 S.W. Naito Parkway.)

Hailed as the largest show west of the Mississippi, the Fort Vancouver Fireworks Display boasts more than 1,200 pyrotechnic products and is frequented by more than 60,000 people. Despite the throngs of sweaty, dirty participants, the all-day wait and the little bits of burning gunpowder that really hurt when they land in an eye, the show can be great. A very large cooler of very cold beer and group of friends are all one needs to enjoy their time at the Fort.

The event begins at noon, and it is best to get there early to pick out a good viewing spot. With that many screaming children, it can be a long wait until 10 p.m. (Located on Evergreen Blvd. in Vancouver, Wash. For more information, call 360-992-1800.)

Looking for a kid-friendly way to spend America’s favorite holiday? Maybe you’re just in the mood for some nostalgia. Oaks Park offers fireworks, greasy food and (yeah!) unlimited rides for $20. With the rides open from noon to midnight, that’s a lot of Tilt-A-Whirl.

Unfortunately for some, this is an alcohol-free event, so leave the cases of Pabst at home and pack that root beer you’ve been saving instead. Keep in mind there is a $2 entrance fee, so take a little cash. But hey, it’s better than spending an entire paycheck on fireworks that only go as high as your waist. Gates open at 10 a.m. and fireworks begin at 9:55 p.m. (Located at the east end of Sellwood Bridge.)

The Washington County Fair Complex is hosting a Fourth of July bash of its own on Friday, with activities ranging from soccer to unannounced live music. Kids score free face-painting as well as free balloon animals, and later in the evening visitors can dance the night away at the DJ Dance, or watch the excitement of the Extreme Motor Cross show. Adult admission is $5, but here is some good news: There is also a beer garden, and there is plenty of time to visit it before the fireworks start at 10 p.m. (Located at 873 N.E. 34th Ave. in Hillsboro. For more information, call 503-648-1416.)

With an array of Fourth of July choices for explosion enthusiasts, Portland also provides plenty of opportunities to keep the kids (or the child within) happy. This year, skip the exploding roman candles and the resulting trips to the emergency room; there are plenty of flaming balls elsewhere that do not so closely resemble your grandmother’s longhaired Chihuahua.