The central San Joaquin Valley celebrated the Fourth of July by eating watermelon, finding ways to beat the heat and watching fireworks. Most importantly to many, they enjoyed the holiday with the people who matter most -- family.
Families across the Valley celebrated American values and traditions, and most enjoyed a gift from Uncle Sam -- a day off from work.
The day was spent barbecuing, dressing in red, white and blue and finding ways to beat the Valley heat.
The best part -- fireworks -- came after the sun went down.
Friday afternoon, Symuel Murray enjoyed a family picnic at Roeding Park with grandchildren in his lap and at his side. It's a family tradition to enjoy the Fourth of July eating, feasting and laughing, he said. Everyone had full bellies of chicken, ribs, beans, corn and green beans.
There were about 30 Murray family members sitting in a circle of lawn chairs by 2:30 p.m., and Murray said by the end of the day there would probably be about 75.
"It's not even a family reunion," he laughed.
Murray explained that his family was built around tradition as his 11-year-old granddaughter Syriah Richardson rattled off the names of five generations of Murrays. Syriah, who was wearing a red and blue beaded bracelet, said her favorite part about Independence Day is the fireworks and that everyone wears the colors of the American flag.
It's important to celebrate America's birthday, especially the veterans, Murray said. His father, uncles and brother were all veterans.
"We need to keep in mind that this is our country," he said, emphasizing the "our."
"That's why we do what we do," he said, "so the kids catch the message. During war and peace, there's this great spirit all around."
At Woodward Park, Mai Xiong and a crowd of 100 family members had the park to themselves. The family set up volleyball and soccer tournaments, played music through giant speakers as many family members made announcements through a microphone.
For Xiong and her family, the Fourth of July is a way to bring the family together.
"It's the only holiday all summer," she said.
People snapped photos as kids rode bikes and rested under umbrellas to stay cool. Xiong fanned her daughter Shynlie, as the 1-year-old gnawed on her food in her stroller.
Enduring the heat
A breeze rustled through Woodward Park just in time for the mid-afternoon sizzling high temperature of 107. It was the sixth day in a row Fresno saw triple-digit temperatures, and five of those days were above 100, according to National Weather Service data.
Pablo Ramirez celebrated America's birthday with his family at the Laton-Kingston Park and found relief from the heat by the Kings River.
"It's how our country came to be," he said about the holiday.
The 18-year-old, who grew up in Selma, sported a red shirt as he explained why he appreciates the freedoms Americans enjoy.
"In this country, we have the right to practice whatever religion we want. It's a way to experience different cultures," he said.
Settling in for the show
An hour before the Freedom Fest firework show at Buchanan High School in Clovis, the scent of barbecue floated through the surrounding neighborhoods, and residents set up chairs and blankets on their lawns. Cars lined the streets for blocks around Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The country-classic rock fusion band Brian Smart and the Country Outlaws played as vendors sold popcorn and corn dogs and painted children's faces with American flags before the show. Running kids filled the lanes on the track as they chased after balls and popped bubbles.
The Smith family relaxed on the Buchanan grass while waiting for the fireworks show. Terri and her husband Jeff said they brought their four children -- Brie, 18, Maddy, 15, Robbie, 6 and Cooper, 4 -- to Freedom Fest last year and wanted to experience the fun environment again.
"There's a great community feeling and a lot of patriotism," Terri Smith said. "I grew up in another state, and Jeff was explaining to me that it's not this patriotic all over the country."
The Smith boys wore matching red American flag shirts as they rolled down the grassy hill and had sword fights with their glow stick light sabers.
The Buchanan crowd rose to its feet as the "Star-Spangled Banner" was played just after 9 p.m. and a burst of red, white and blue aerial fireworks shot into the air on cue.
As a Colonial-era march played over the speakers and fireworks crackled and popped in the night sky, Lucy Vang and Giovanna Guzman, both 17, craned their necks to get a good shot of the show with their cellphones.
"We waited four hours for this," Vang said.
"It was worth it," Guzman added.
Independence Day celebrations around the central San Joaquin Valley
Most of the community Independence Day events were held Thursday and Friday, but there are still a few events scheduled Saturday night, including:
Fireworks Spectacular over Shaver Lake, 7-8 p.m. July 5, boat parade then fireworks, Shaver Lake, free.
Mariposa Celebration, July 5, 4:30-6:30 p.m. grilled hot dog dinner and 7 p.m. Mariposa Symphony Orchestra, Mariposa County Park Amphitheater, 4998 County Park Rd., (209) 966-3155, $17 adults, $7 ages 12 and under.
Star-Spangled Revue, show begins after dark each day through July 5, Wild Water Adventures, 11413 E. Shaw Ave., Clovis, $21.99-$29.99, 299-9453.
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