The Fourth of July is right around the corner and as we celebrate America's independence, it's important to make sure your festivities don't lead to trouble with the law. While sparklers and poppers are generally legal everywhere, in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, many types of fireworks are illegal for personal use, and should be left for professional shows.
Because of the density of Washington, D.C., and the numerous government buildings and national monuments, fireworks laws in Washington, D.C. are quite strict. According to the DC Metropolitan Police Department, “any firework that explodes” is considered illegal. Let's get more specific, though:
- Permissible: Paper caps (“poppers”), sparklers (less than 20 inches in length), torches, cones, box fires, fountains, dip-sticks, snakes (so long as they do not contain poisonous substances like mercury, arsenic, and phosphorus), paper novelty items, colored lights
- Illegal: Firecrackers, “any firework that explodes” (cherry bombs, Roman candles, shells, etc.), fireworks that produce a projectile or move after placement (bottle rockets, pinwheels, jumping jacks), sparklers more than 20 inches in length, or any firework that contains certain poisonous substances (see the Police Department website for the full list).
It is important to note that Washington, D.C., also includes “any firework found by the code official to be dangerous to the safety of persons or property” in its list of illegal fireworks. This means that even if your chosen fireworks are on the permissible list, if they are being used in a dangerous way, or in a way that a code official finds to be unsafe, they can be deemed illegal. No chasing each other with sparklers!
Maryland shares many of D.C.'s strict firework ordinances. In the state of Maryland, only sparklers, ground-based sparkler devices, and “snakes” are considered legal. Any fireworks that explode, must be launched out of a mortar tube, or produce projectiles are illegal for personal use. More specifically:
- Permissible: Gold-labeled sparklers (sparklers free from chlorates or perchlorates), novelty items (“snappers”/”poppers”, snakes), ground-based sparkler devices
- Illegal: Firecrackers, cherry bombs, M-80's, mortars, Roman candles, bottle rockets, sky rockets, spinning wheels, anything that moves after it is lit (for the full list, head over to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's website)
In general, legal fireworks in the commonwealth of Virginia are limited to those that stay on the ground. It is illegal to set off or hold larger fireworks for personal use (like mortars and bombettes), as well as any fireworks that launch a projectile (like bottle rockets and Roman candles). Virginia's Statewide Fire Prevention Code Act identifies the following:
- Permissible: Sparklers, fountain, Pharaoh's serpents, pistol caps, pinwheels (like whirligigs and spinning jennies)
- Illegal: Firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, “or other substance or object, of whatever form or construction, that contains any explosive or inflammable compound or substance, and is intended, or commonly known as fireworks, and which explodes, rises into the air or travels laterally, or fires projectiles into the air.”
When in doubt, put it out!
The last thing you want at your summer BBQ is a ticket for illegal fireworks — or worse, a fire breaking out! If you're not sure whether your fireworks brand or type is allowed by law, it's a good idea not to use it. If you're preparing for festivities on Independence Day, be sure you've brushed up on your local fire codes and county ordinances. When in doubt, give your county's fire department a call or visit their website to see what resources are available for Fourth of July festivities.
Our country's Independence Day is a cause for celebration, remembrance, and thanks to the incredible servicemen and women who keep our country safe. From the team at Patriots Law Group, we wish you and your family a happy, safe, and fantastic Fourth of July!
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for general informational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information. Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.