Rockets Red Glare, Bombs Bursting in Air

Lots of states sell fireworks that are illegal in Virginia.

Every year, it usually starts in the daylight hours on July 4, or the weekend before. A few firecrackers here and there, a lone bottle rocket soars through the air before exploding. As the sun sets, more pops, and rockets soaring in the neighborhoods to the oooh’s and aaah’s from the folks on the ground. It goes on all night too.

Wait a minute, these are illegal in Fairfax County without a permit, right?

According to the county, “consumer fireworks legally permitted for sale and use in Fairfax County are known as permissible fireworks.” But that’s where they draw the line, and they list illegal fireworks as well. “Aerial shells, firecrackers, cherry bombs, roman candles, and skyrockets are just a few examples,” the county said.

In 2022, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department responded to over 40 fireworks-related incidents in Fairfax County. The total property and content loss with these incidents was $72,536, said Ashley Hildebrandt, Director of Public Information at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Since even the possession of unapproved fireworks is prohibited in Fairfax County, such fireworks will be confiscated and the person possessing them can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. This carries a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and/or one year in jail, the county website read.

There is an extensive 19-page list of what is allowed too, and these permits are only valid from June 1 to July 15 of each year. The fireworks listed in this document are classified as "permissible fireworks" for purposes of applying and enforcing the Statewide Fire Prevention Code. starting with the Allen Party Assortment to item GG0359 called the WOO WOO! There are many colorful names on the list including the "Dancing Butterfly," the "Radioactive Meltdown," and the "Frisky Starburst." One can just picture sparks flying every which way and the sulfur smell that hangs around the backyard on a hot July 4 night. With colorful names like these, what could they hurt?

According to Hildebrandt, there have been a number of injuries in the past few years. In 2018 there were three serious injuries, 2019 there were four and three again in 2020 with a total property damage of nearly $700,000. 


Explosions Wanted?

Alas though, just putting a cone on the ground, lighting it and watching the shower of sparks may not be enough for some, so it’s time for a road trip down I-95 to a place called "South of the Border." This stop is right inside of the South Carolina border and is famous for fireworks that are illegal in other states. It started as a beer stand in 1949 and now has a motel, gas stations and shelves and shelves of firecrackers, bottle rockets, M-80s and smoke bombs just to name a few. Isn’t this stuff dangerous? South Carolina and a few other states allow them anyways.

Keystone Fireworks is located in Pennsylvania, close to the Maryland border and they sell mortar kits, firecrackers, missiles, rockets and Roman candles. "Fireworks are a great American tradition," Keystone states. "They can provide hours of family entertainment but must be handled by adults with safety in mind. For the safety of both the audience and those lighting the fireworks, we recommend that you observe the following safety measures during your fireworks display," and then have an extensive 22 item list of precautions, including “following the local and state laws.”

Keystone's version of the mellower “moon rocket” is called the "Big Daddy," with stuff like the Star Blast, the Whistling Buster and Premium Artillery Shells. Phantom Fireworks has a commercial on an area television channel despite that most of their fireworks are illegal in this area.

According to Hildebrandt, at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, “Going to another state to purchase fireworks is not legal.”

The police leave it to the fire experts though. Possessing illegal fireworks is a fire department issue, said Fairfax County Police officer Katie Watts. “We’ll usually get noise complaints,” she said.