Harrisburg, PA – As millions of Pennsylvanians prepare to celebrate Independence Day, State Fire Commissioner Thomas Cook and DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn are urging residents to leave fireworks displays to the professionals due to ongoing drought conditions and elevated wildfire risks.
“While we remind residents every year that fireworks are not toys, this year has the added risk of inadvertently setting off a wildfire due to lack of rain and dry conditions throughout the state,” said Commissioner Cook. “The safest way to enjoy fireworks during Independence Day is to enjoy fireworks displays managed by professionals.”
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show fireworks start more than 18,500 fires per year and cause an average of $43 million in direct property damage.
DCNR reminds Pennsylvanians that 99 percent of wildfires are caused by people. With especially dry conditions across the Commonwealth in 2023, DCNR is encouraging Pennsylvanians to follow guidance from experts on fireworks and be mindful of local, county and statewide guidance on burning.
“We have seen consistent elevated risks for wildfires this year, forcing our volunteer and wildland firefighters to suppress an unprecedented number of blazes this year,” Secretary Dunn said. “With that in mind, we ask that the public take all necessary precautions to protect the Commonwealth’s lands for the upcoming holiday as we continue to see dry conditions that make fireworks and other fire risks more likely to create wildfires.”
Low precipitation has dramatically increased the number of wildfires in Pennsylvania this year. There have already been 1,400 wildfires reported statewide so far in 2023, compared to 1,036 in all of 2022. This year’s wildfires have burned more than 8,500 acres, compared to 2,700 acres in 2022. Visit DCNR’s website for more information on wildfire danger, maps, forecasts, and tips on reducing wildfire risks.
Despite the risks associated with private use of fireworks, many continue to choose to use them during the holiday. Cook recommended the following safety precautions.
- Never allow children to play with fireworks, even sparklers, which can burn at temperatures of at least 1200 degrees.
- Only allow adults to light fireworks one at a time, then quickly back away.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
- Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy in case of a fire.
- Never pick up or try to relight fireworks that have not fully ignited.
- After the fireworks have burned, fully douse them with water before picking them up or disposing to prevent trash fires.
- Never use fireworks after consuming alcohol, or other medications or substances that can impair judgment or the ability to react quickly to an emergency.
- Whether attending a professional display, or using consumer fireworks, always remain at a safe distance from the ignition location.
- Be sensitive of neighbors and their pets, particularly if military veterans live nearby.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that in 2018, there were five nonprofessional fireworks-related deaths and an estimated 9,100 patients were treated for fireworks injuries in hospital emergency rooms nationwide. Approximately half of the injuries reported were burns; with the head, eyes, face, or ears being the most frequently impacted part of the body. Thirty-six percent of those injuries involved children under the age of 15.
Under state law, Pennsylvanians who are at least 18 years old may purchase and use Class C, otherwise known as consumer-grade fireworks. Certain restrictions apply, including:
- They cannot be ignited or discharged on public or private property without the express permission of the property owner.
- They cannot be discharged from within a motor vehicle or building.
- They cannot be discharged toward a motor vehicle or building.
- They cannot be discharged within 150 feet of an occupied structure.
- They cannot be discharged while the person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another drug.
Local ordinances may include additional restrictions, so always check with your municipality before purchasing or using Class C fireworks. Additional tips, and seasonal fire safety tips can be found online. Additionally, residents can subscribe to the ReadyPA monthly preparedness newsletter which features timely preparedness tips. Sign up to receive this helpful information here.
DCNR is encouraging residents to understand the factors that increase the risk of wildfires, including an available fuel source, such as dried grass or leaves; dry conditions, including low relative humidity; and an ignition source to start the fire, such as fireworks, sparks from an automobile, machine exhaust, or burning trash.