It’s summer, and so it’s fireworks season.
Last year they seemed like they were everywhere, especially leading up to the July 4 holiday. Between May 29 and June 29, 2020, Philadelphia police fielded 8,526 complaints about fireworks.
According to city Managing Director Brian Abernathy in 2020, DIY fireworks shows can be dangerous.
But what are the rules? Here’s what’s allowed and what you can do about it:
What fireworks are allowed in Philly?
Pennsylvanians have had legal access to certain, more powerful fireworks since 2017, when legislators passed House Bill 542. That bill allowed residents to legally purchase and use “consumer-grade” or “Class C” fireworks that contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive material, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
That means firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and the like are all legal. Before 2017, only people from out of state could buy those fireworks, while Pennsylvania residents were limited to non-aerial items like sparklers and ground fountains.
When the bill passed, however, it conflicted with the Philadelphia Fire Code, which banned the use of consumer fireworks in the city without a permit. That changed in July 2019, when Mayor Jim Kenney signed an updated fire code that allows for the use of consumer fireworks in the city, with several important restrictions.
What fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania?
There are some types of fireworks that are still off the table for Pennsylvanians. Chief among them are “display fireworks” — the really big, showy stuff — which require special permits and are intended for use by professional pyrotechnicians.
Pennsylvania defines display fireworks as anything that contains more than 130 milligrams (or two grains) of explosives, and “aerial shells,” which contain more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic composition. Think the stuff you see at public events, like the Independence Day fireworks show on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Also off limits: highly explosive M-type devices, such as M-80s and M-100s, which are classified as “Illegal Explosive Devices” by agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Can residents legally set off consumer fireworks in Philadelphia?
Probably not. Philadelphia strictly limits how consumer fireworks can be used, making them tough to set off while following city rules.
Here are the rules:
Only people aged 18 years and older are allowed to buy, possess, or use consumer fireworks.
Fireworks cannot be used on public property or on private property without the owner’s written consent.
They can’t be set off within 150 feet of an occupied structure, under trees, or power lines.
You’re not allowed to set off fireworks from inside or toward a building or vehicle.
And you’re not allowed to use them if you’ve been drinking or using drugs, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
In October 2020, City Council passed a bill that makes it illegal to set off fireworks after 9 p.m., except on federal holidays (and even then, it also has to adhere to the fire code).
So, if the laws are broken, what are the penalties?
According to Pennsylvania’s fireworks laws, selling illegal fireworks is a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years and a fine of up to $15,000. (Illegally selling consumer fireworks, meanwhile, is a second-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to $5,000.)
Setting off consumer fireworks illegally is a summary offense. Fines range from $100-$300 for a first offense, $200-$400 for a second offense, $300-$500 for a third, and up to $700 for subsequent offenses.
As a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson said in 2019, the use of illegal fireworks could lead to a “plethora of charges.”
Where can I report illegal fireworks?
If you see someone using fireworks illegally — such as near occupied structures or using high-explosive fireworks — or want to report a late-night noise complaint, you can call 911 or your local police district to report it. Will it help? Kenney tweeted that “enforcement is difficult because people tend to leave the scene quickly.”
This article has been updated since it first published.