Breaking down fireworks laws ahead of New Year celebrations

Breaking down fireworks laws ahead of New Year celebrations
Sparklers (FILE) (Source: Pixabay)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR/WHSV) - With 2021 approaching, some residents in the central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley may start prepping to set off fireworks in celebration of leaving 2020 behind.

And while it may be a fun tradition, you’ll need to consider the county or city where you live and their laws for setting off fireworks.

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:

Virginia

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is illegal to possess, use, store, sale or handle any firework that explodes, rises into the air/travels laterally or fires projectiles into the air, unless you are a licensed contractor, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry.

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 counties.

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.

Charlottesville

Charlottesville’s city ordinance prohibit all fireworks in the city limits. That includes every variety of “firecracker, sparkler, roman candle, fire balloon, signal light, squib, rocket, railroad track or other torpedo, skyrocket, flashlight composition, or other substance or object, of whatever form or construction, that contains any explosive or inflammable compound or substance, and which explodes, rises into the air, travels laterally, or fires projectiles into the air to obtain visible or audible pyrotechnic effects.”

Additional details are available here under Section 12-32.

Albemarle County

Fireworks that do not contain explosives, travel across the ground or rise into the air are generally allowed for use on private property. That includes sparklers, fountains, pinwheels and some other, but any firecrackers or skycrackers are generally banned.

Permits are required for any other large, aerial displays.

Fluvanna, Greene, Nelson, Madison, Orange and Louisa County

All six localities have few restrictions - beyond those issued by the state - for small fireworks displays held on private property. Some noise ordinance rules may apply in some areas. If you are ever concerned about a display, contact the local sheriff’s office or police department.

All large aerial displays require a permit issued in advance of the event.

Harrisonburg

In the Friendly City, fireworks are illegal. 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 that have been inspected 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.

Staunton

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.

Waynesboro

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.

Safety

All localities in our area emphasize safety when using any kind of fireworks. 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.

The Woodstock Police Department previously 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.

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