Do you know the fireworks law for where you live?
In one Shenandoah Valley city, every kind of firework is illegal
With Independence Day rapidly approaching, a lot of people are preparing to set off their own fireworks in celebration, especially with so many professional displays canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.
Regular staple events of the Shenandoah Valley—like Waynesboro’s Summer Extravaganza, New Market’s Independence Day Celebration, Staunton’s Happy Birthday America, or Harrisonburg’s Friendly City Fourth—have either been canceled or postponed to cut down on potential crowds where COVID-19 would be at a high risk of spreading.
So, rather than waiting until the fall for a professional fireworks show, a lot of people are planning to have their own smaller version at home.
But if you're planning on buying your own, you need to consider where you live — not just the state, but the county or city.
If you don't, you could potentially face serious fines or even serve jail time.
So what do fireworks laws look like across our area? Here's a rundown:
In the commonwealth of Virginia, it is illegal to possess, use, store, sale, or handle any firework that explodes, rises into the air or travels laterally, or to fire projectiles into the air. Some of the fireworks considered illegal under that law include firecrackers, torpedoes, bottle rockets, and mortars. The offense for illegal fireworks is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
However, fireworks that stay on the ground, like pinwheels, fountains and sparklers, are legal through the state code.
This law applies to all counties throughout the commonwealth like Augusta, Page, Rockingham, and Shenandoah.
Most incorporated towns, like Bridgewater and Grottoes, also follow the Code of Virginia. For instance, in New Market's town code, the following sentence describes their policy on fireworks:
Fireworks shall be regulated as provided in the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code, and enforced by the county fire marshal.
Independent cities, on the other hand, often have their own fireworks laws, including banning them outright, and those can be found below.
After West Virginia’s legislature passed a new law in 2016, all consumer fireworks have been legal in the Mountain State, including firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, helicopter and aerial spinners, multi-aerial mine and shell devices, aerial shell kits and reloadables.
Since 2006, West Virginians have been able to purchase hand-held and ground-based novelty items, like hand-sparklers and fountains.
It is a violation of both West Virginia and Virginia state laws, however, to ignite or discharge any fireworks, including sparklers, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
This applies to Pendleton, Grant, and Hardy counties.
You can find West Virginia’s fireworks law in full here.
The city of Harrisonburg has the strictest fireworks policy of any in our region, and shares a lot in common with Charlottesville, over the mountain.
In the “Friendly City,” fireworks are illegal, and have been since a law was passed in 1973. You are not allowed to sell, hold, or set off any type, including sparklers and fountains.
A fire marshal with the Harrisonburg Fire Department or any law enforcement officer has the power to issue a ticket for violating this ordinance. Anyone caught using illegal fireworks could have their fireworks confiscated and be charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which can come with a $2,500 fine or even time in jail.
Fireworks sold in Rockingham County have been inspected and are considered legal for use there, in accordance with Virginia laws (not shooting in the air), but they cannot be taken into Harrisonburg. Possession of fireworks on its own is a criminal offense in the city.
You can read the code as written at this link.
The “Queen City” follows a policy similar to the state as a whole, but is a little bit stricter. According to Staunton’s city code, “It shall be unlawful for any person to set off, release or discharge within the city any torpedo, firecracker, skyrocket, 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; and no person shall within the city sell any such articles without a permit.”
Essentially, any firework with an explosive compound inside it is illegal within city limits. Sparklers and other hand-held and ground-based items are alright.
Want to read the policy yourself in the context of the city code? You can find that here.
Staunton Fire and Rescue say firework complaints can be reported to 540-332-3842.
Waynesboro city code specifically allows "sparklers, fountains, Pharaoh's serpents, or pinwheels commonly known as whirligigs or spinning jennies," so long as these forms of fireworks are lit on private property with the owner's consent.
Otherwise, fireworks in the city must be set off with a permit from fire officials.
You can read Waynesboro’s ordinance on fireworks here.
Above all, all localities in our area emphasize safety when using any kind of fireworks. Many people don't realize the danger even sparklers can present.
In 2014, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that fireworks were involved in roughly 10,000 injuries treated in emergency departments across the country. About half of the victims were treated for burns, which were caused mainly by sparklers, bottle rockets and firecrackers.
Fireworks can be misused or abused by a person at any age.
“You always see kids with sparklers, especially around like Fourth of July and stuff,” said Erin Stehle, with the Harrisonburg Fire Department, to WHSV previously. “But what people don’t realize is that those sparklers can get up to 1,200 degrees I believe, which is mind-blowing because you think this cute little thing that kids use must be harmless.”
The Woodstock Police Department offered these safety tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety:
- Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
- Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
- A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
- Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
- Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
- Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
- Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
- Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
- Never carry fireworks in your POCKET or shoot them into METAL or GLASS containers.
- Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
- Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
You can find more safety advice here.
The safest choice is to go to a local professional fireworks show, though many of those will happen later in 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A lot of the biggest fireworks displays that regularly happen in the Valley are either canceled or postponed.
You can learn more about the decisions made here:
- Waynesboro’s Summer Extravaganza
- New Market’s Independence Day Celebration
- Staunton’s Happy Birthday America
- Harrisonburg’s Friendly City Fourth
- Wintergreen Resort’s July 4th Jubilee
The one display that is still planned at this point is Massanutten Resort’s Summer Jam fireworks, which remains scheduled for 9 p.m. on July 4.
While the resort’s annual Summer Jam festival itself was cancelled for 2020 due to the pandemic, they plan to continue the fireworks, which are set off from a remote location and allow people throughout the resort to watch from their own locations without large gatherings.