Fourth of July 2020: Fireworks Display Cancellations and Potential of Increased Use of Illegal Fireworks in Virginia

RICHMOND – June 29, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Fire Programs’ (VDFP) State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) says this Fourth of July holiday will be significantly different than in years’ past – almost all permitted professional fireworks shows have been cancelled and as a result, a surge in non-permissible or illegal fireworks may be used in the Commonwealth.

“COVID-19 has covered many of our pastimes and traditions with a wet blanket. We anticipate that this Fourth of July, Virginians will take to their own devices to celebrate the holiday in their backyards or neighborhoods,” said VDFP Executive Director Michael Reilly. “On top of limited fireworks displays, we’re dealing with limitations in how we assemble. This formula makes celebrating the Fourth of July holiday logistically complicated.”

VDFP’s State Fire Marshal’s Office serves as the fire code enforcement arm of the state government training agency. In 2019, SFMO confiscated approximately 10,000 non-permissible fireworks that were either sold, used, or in possession. This is five times the number of non-permissible fireworks confiscated in 2018, which was roughly 2,000.

In general, any firework that explodes, moves on the ground or in the air, or shoots a projectile is illegal.

“Fire officials stress the message of ‘leaving fireworks to the professionals’ because the professionals obtain permits with the State Fire Marshal’s Office or within their respective localities,” said VDFP Assistant State Fire Marshal of Special Operations Billy Hux. “Fire officials vet each request and host for the proper use of permissible fireworks, safety factors, and capabilities. This is for the sake of public protection. Confiscation of non-permissible fireworks is how we prevent the worst from happening to individuals and property.”

Only “permissible fireworks,” as defined in the Code of Virginia, can be legally sold, possessed or used within the Commonwealth. A list of permissible fireworks can be viewed on the VDFP website. The fireworks listed in this document have been field tested to compare the items to the performance criteria of the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory (AFSL). Permissible fireworks may also be further limited in different localities. Check local ordinances as well as the Statewide Fire Prevention Code prior to purchasing and utilizing fireworks.

The sale, possession and /or use of any fireworks not classified as permissible is prohibited. Violations can be prosecuted as a Class I Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,500 and/or up to one (1) year in jail. Any illegal fireworks can be confiscated by authorities. Many localities prohibit the sale, possession or use of all fireworks.

SFMO started conducting statewide fireworks stand inspections in June and will continue in July, to include July 4th. VDFP Assistant State Fire Marshal of Special Operations Hux added, “SFMO will be assisting state and local partners with the enforcement of the Statewide Fire Prevention Code for permissible and non-permissible fireworks usage throughout the state.”

If you do use permissible fireworks, follow these important safety precautions:

  • Check local ordinances on the use of fireworks.
  • Fireworks can only be used on private property with the consent of the owner.
  • Never use fireworks indoors.
  • Never use fireworks while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Never allow children to use fireworks.
  • Ensure adequate clearance from people, buildings and combustible material.
  • Have a garden hose or other water source readily available in case of fire.
  • Soak spent fireworks in water before placing them in the trash.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never hold the fireworks in your hands while lighting them.
  • Never point fireworks at a person.