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Crowds soak in fireworks across NE Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Rain moved out of northeast Florida by late afternoon Saturday, just in time for Independence Day evening gatherings to go off on schedule.

Most of the crowd on Jacksonville Beach that scattered when the rain came through returned to the shore in the evening to see the first fireworks shot from a barge anchored offshore.

People carried chairs, umbrellas, tents and barbecue onto the sand. The beach was filled with spectators.

Phillip Lindsey, who drove from Atlanta to see the show, had worried about the rain canceling the show, but everything turned out like he hoped.

The first fireworks along the First Coast were set off at 9 p.m. from a barge offshore of Jacksonville Beach.
The first fireworks along the First Coast were set off at 9 p.m. from a barge offshore of Jacksonville Beach.

"The parking spot was $30, so we are here," Lindsey said. Asked if he got his money's worth, he answered with an enthusiastic, "Yeah!"

The people with the best seats were Ashley Gibbens' family, whose family puts on the fireworks display.

"We get really close, front row seats, and we don't have to deal with the traffic and parking. So that's really nice," GIbbens said.

IMAGES: Fireworks across the First Coast

About 20 minutes later, the crowd that spend the day at a Fourth of July celebration at Mooshaven in Orange Park was treated to fireworks over the river. 

"It's just fantastic," said Joseph Barrett, who said he returned home from Vietnam on Independence Day 50 years ago. "There's nothing more spectacular than the fireworks."

Barrett said his birthday is in a couple of days and family came together -- some from as far as Chicago -- to be there. 

"It just means so much to us," Barrett said. "I have 22 grandchildren and seven kids, and we're all here on this day every year."

People on the Southbank Riverwalk watch Jacksonville's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular.
People on the Southbank Riverwalk watch Jacksonville's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular.

Thousands lined the river in Downtown Jacksonville for the city's big fireworks display. There were official viewing locations set up along the Southbank, at Friendship Fountain Park, at the Jacksonville Landing and along Coastline Drive, and the Shipyards. An estimated 3,000 people attended the Shipyards event alone, where there was live music, family games, bounce houses, face painting and food trucks.

When the skies lit up about 9:40 p.m. -- a few minutes ahead of planned -- all eyes were on the sky. 

Planning for the city's celebration started about 90 days ago and the fireworks show alone cost $35,000.

Fireworks over the Matanzas started at 9:30 p.m. along the St. Augustine bayfront.

There were also fireworks shows in Palatka, Lake City, St. Marys, Jekyll Island, Brunswick, Waycross and other cities across Channel 4's viewing area.

The American Pie Fourth of July Festival in Green Cove Springs ended early when the fireworks being set off at from the pier at Reynolds Park all went up at once just after the show started. Danny Turner, of Pyro Shows, told the Orange Park Rotary Club that the company will do a make up show some other time.

There was heavy traffic leaving many of the venues after the shows, but no incidents were reported. At the beach, some people didn't immediacy head to their cars, but to enjoy some of the nightlife along Third Street.

Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol are asking volunteers to help with the annual July 5 beaches cleanup. Litter collection bags and gloves will be distributed to volunteers between 7 and 9 a.m. where Atlantic Boulevard, Beach Boulevard and 16th Avenue South meet the ocean.