Update July 3: Mayor Kenney officially signed the updated Fire Code. With one day to spare before the holiday, consumer fireworks are now legal to set off in Philly (with some restrictions).

Philly’s Department of Licenses and Inspections wanted to throw a party to celebrate an official update of the Fire Code, which will likely legalize the use of fireworks in the city. They were thinking of planning a “big ceremonial signing” of the new law that would do it, a city spokesperson told Billy Penn — but they ran out of time.

As of this weekend, just days before July Fourth, Philly’s legal fireworks ordinance still hadn’t been signed.

What’s the deal? You might remember that Pennsylvania legalized firework sales across the state back in December 2017 — although roadside tent sales have since been halted, according to the Inquirer.

As it turned out, the statewide law legalizing firecrackers for consumer use didn’t quite jibe with Philly’s fireworks rules.

While Pa. House Bill 542 allowed in-state businesses to sell the airborne sparklers to residents, it did not change Philadelphia’s Fire Code — which strictly prohibits people actually using them within city limits (unless you have a permit). The two laws were basically in direct conflict, and for Fourth of July last year, everything was confusing as officials sent out mixed messages.

But a bill now sitting on Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk will fix that. It’ll amend the Fire Code, bringing it into compliance with state law. The ordinance was first introduced by Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez in November, and then approved by the city’s legislative body in mid-June.

So as long as Kenney doesn’t get cold feet in the next few days, our municipal and state fireworks rules will finally work together for Independence Day this time.

As for publicly commemorating of this happy confluence, well, party planning takes time — and city officials prioritized a pre-Fourth signing over a flashy one, per spokesperson Lauren Cox.

Legal, but still ‘very difficult’

So low-grade airborne fireworks will soon be legal to buy, sell and set off within city limits — and most likely before July Fourth.

With the stroke of Kenney’s pen, Philadelphians will be able to legally set off:

  • Ground-based fireworks
  • Firecrackers
  • Roman candles
  • Bottle rockets
  • Other Class C fireworks, also known as “consumer grade”
  • NOT fireworks with more than 50 milligrams of explosive materials
  • NOT “display” fireworks, which contain professional-grade pyrotechnics

But don’t get too excited yet. There are some pretty restrictive rules here.

  1. You have to be at least 18 years old.
  2. You can’t set off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure — including houses or commercial buildings that are in use.
  3. You can’t light a fuse under any trees or power lines.
  4. And must have permission (in writing) from whoever owns the land. So unless you get the green light from Parks & Rec, that crosses off most of the public space that would be big enough to meet the first rule.

“This essentially makes it very difficult for the use of fireworks to be legal in most of the city,” spokesperson Cox observed.

The city also offered the standard caveat about safety. “While it can be tempting to get in on the action on July 4 and other holidays,” reads an emailed statement attributed to Kenney, “we always encourage Philadelphians to leave fireworks to the experts.”

If you can find the proper amount of space and do it safely, though — and if that bill actually gets signed — more power to you. Happy birthday, America.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...