How to tell if you’re buying legal or illegal fireworks

The Fourth of July is coming and while they’ll still be shooting fireworks over the National Mall this year, most municipal shows around the area have been called off in an effort to keep people socially distanced.

As a result, many municipalities expect more people will be taking fireworks into their own hands this July 4.

The fireworks industry said sales are already up this year compared to previous ones.

In Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland, as well as the City of Alexandria in Virginia, all fireworks are illegal, including sparklers.

Everywhere else across the region allows for some sort of pyrotechnics.

That means if you haven’t seen them yet, pretty soon you’ll see lots of roadside stands springing up around the region where you can buy fireworks.

If you’re buying out of the D.C. area, where the laws are a lot more relaxed, you want to keep it legal, but there are some key words to look for.

“The thing that separate the fireworks and ground-based sparkling device is the action of the device,” said Bill Ray, who is with the Anne Arundel County Fire Marshal’s office.

“Any device that propels, jumps, flies, or reports, are illegal” in Maryland, as well as D.C. and the Northern Virginia region, said Ray.

That last word — “report” — is the one to watch for.

“If the device explodes with a bang, that is a report,” Ray said.

He advises consumers to read labels closely before buying anything. At a glance, it’s not always easy to tell whether something is legal or not.

“Ground-based sparking devices will say ‘Caution: emit sparks, showers of sparks,’” Ray said.

“Illegal fireworks may say ‘Warning: shoots flaming balls with reports,’ ‘Warning: flammable rockets with reports,’ ‘Warning: shoots whistles in the air.’

“Any person found to be in possession or discharge of illegal fireworks can be issued a criminal citation,” said Ray.

Generally the severity of that citation will vary depending on where you are.

“Please don’t go out and purchase illegal fireworks and produce your own show,” said Ray, who notes the public displays you normally go to are produced by licensed professionals.

For more information on what is legal and not where you live, WTOP has compiled a list of firework laws by area.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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