Fireworks in Massachusetts

Enjoy supervised professional fireworks displays

Local fire departments supervise fireworks displays all over Massachusetts. Unfortunately, children and adults continue to set off illegal fireworks that start fires and cause serious injuries to themselves and others.

Fireworks can be deadly

A 45 year old Gloucester woman died in a December 22, 2003 house fire when someone threw fireworks and ignited a Christmas tree in the living room. Three other people were injured. On May 20, 1997, a 26 year old man from Watertown was killed while he was lighting fireworks in a hallway. A 27 year old Framingham man was killed on July 4, 1993, when backyard fireworks exploded in his face. On July 4, 1992, fireworks fatally injured a 30 year old man on a Fairhaven beach.

All fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts (MGL c148 s39)

The possession and use of all fireworks by private citizens is illegal in Massachusetts. This included Class C fireworks which are sometimes falsely called “safe and sane fireworks”. Class C fireworks include sparklers, party poppers, snappers, firecrackers, spinners, cherry bombs, and more. Sparklers burn at 1800 degree.

It is illegal to transport fireworks into Massachusetts, even if they were purchased legally elsewhere. Illegal fireworks will be confiscated on the spot.

Do not purchase fireworks through mail-order or online catalogs

The distribution of mail-order catalogs that clearly state that fireworks are illegal in some jurisdictions cannot be prohibited. State and local police regularly confiscate illegal shipments of fireworks into Massachusetts. Many unhappy consumers have lost both their money and the fireworks trying to circumvent the law.

Set a good example for children

Children imitate adults. If you use fireworks, children will copy you, not realizing how very dangerous fireworks are. Sixty percent of fireworks-related burn injuries reported by hospitals to the Office of the State Fire Marshal in 2013 were to children under age 18. Over one-quarter (27%) of the victims were children under age 10.

Fires caused by fireworks

In the past decade (2004-2013) there have been 802 major fire and explosion incidents involving illegal fireworks reported to the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System. The incidents caused 14 civilian injuries, 2 fire service injuries, and an estimated dollar loss of $2 million, which is high considering most fireworks fires are outdoor brush fires.

  • On August 4, 2013, the Chicopee Fire Department responded to a fireworks explosion that severely injured a resident’s hand and also injured his young son. The State Police Bomb Squad was called to dispose of the illegal commercial grade fireworks.
  • On July 5, 2013, the Lowell Fire Department responded to a fire in an eight-unit apartment building. Fireworks set off inside a trash can on a porch started the fire.
  • On July 7, 2013, The Plymouth Fire Department was dispatched to a fire in a boat house. Someone ignited fireworks near storage supplies that started the fire. Damages were estimated at $4,000.
  • On January 9, 2013, Belmont firefighters extinguished two fires in one car; one in the passenger seat and one in the trunk. Smoldering fireworks caused the fires. Damage to the vehicle was estimated at $5,000.
  • On July 4, 2013, the Worcester Fire Department responded to a fire in a three-unit apartment building. Fireworks ignited the roof. One firefighter was injured at this fire. Damages were estimated at $12,000.
  • On March 20, 2014, the Abington Fire Department responded to a fireworks explosion in an apartment complex. A youth’s hand was amputated and a 31 year old man was injured when consumer grade fireworks exploded in his apartment.

Burns caused by fireworks

In the past decade (2004-2013), 49 people were treated at Massachusetts emergency rooms for severe burn injuries from fireworks (burns covering 5% or more of the body) according to the Massachusetts Burn Injury Reporting System. Seventy-two percent of the victims were children and youths under age 25. These victims are scarred for life.

  • On March 18, 2013, a 19 year old Dartmouth man severely burned his hand when fireworks exploded inside his home.
  • On September 20, 2013, a 38 year old Boston man received severe chemical burns to approximately 30% of his body while experimenting at home with chemicals and fireworks that exploded.
  • On August 10, 2013, a 33 year old Beverly man was holding a handful of sparklers. While trying to light one sparkler, he inadvertently ignited them all and burned his hands.
  • On June 5, 2013, an 8 year old girl sat on a sparkler that ignited her dress. She received burns to 7% of her body.
Source: FireFACTORS – Office of the State Fire Marshal, Massachusetts Dept of Fire Services

Preventing Mulch Fires

Mulch is a combustible material that can be easily ignited by improperly discarded smoking materials. Hundreds of small and large fires are started this way every year. The risk is that what starts as a small outdoor mulch fire can quickly spread to buildings. A mulch fire can be well underway before someone notices or is alerted by smoke alarms or sprinkler systems activating.

New Regulation on Mulch Safety

The new regulation (527 CMR 17), took effect September 2012 and prohibits the new application of mulch within 18″ around combustible exteriors of buildings, such as wood or vinyl but not brick or concrete. Residential buildings with six units or less are exempt from this regulation, but all homeowners may also wish to adopt these safety practices. The regulation applies to all other buildings including commercial properties.

Tips for Property Managers, Building Owners, & Landscapers

  • Provide a minimum of an 18 inch clearance between landscape mulch beds and combustible building materials, such as wood, vinyl siding, and decks.
  • Use non-combustible mulch such as rock or pea stone around gas meters and combustible portions of the structure.
  • Provide proper receptacles for smoking materials at all entrances to public buildings and in designated smoking areas and remember to regularly empty smoke receptacles.
  • Grounds and maintenance crews should be aware when conditions are favorable for mulch fires and increase surveillance of mulch beds.
  • Keep mulch beds moist when possible.

Million Dollar Mulch Fire

  • The most notable event occurred at a Peabody apartment complex in May 2008. A cigarette-lit mulch fire caused a $6.7 million loss, displaced 750 people temporarily and 36 permanently.
  • In April 2012, improperly discarded smoking materials ignited mulch outside an assisted living center in Braintree. The fire forced the early morning evacuation of many older adults, some of whom suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

Report Mulch Fires

  • If you see anything smoking in a landscape bed, put it out if you can and report it. If the burning material is not thoroughly wet or removed it might re-ignite.
  • Report any smoke or fire via 9-1-1.

Be a Responsible Smoker: Put it Out. All the Way. Every Time!

  • If you smoke, remember to properly dispose of all smoking materials.
  • Always use appropriate receptacles for disposing of smoking materials and matches.
  • Don’t discard cigarettes into mulch or potted plants.
  • At home, use ashtrays that won’t burn or catch fire and that are deep. Wet them down before throwing out.
  • As more people smoke outdoors rather than inside, many building fires started by smoking begin on decks, porches, and exterior stairways.
  • Be smart in your choice of containers for butts. Consider using metal cans with sand for outside disposal.
  • Because of the risk of starting a fire, do not throw lit smoking materials out of the car window, it is illegal to do so and punishable by a fine of $100 and/or thirty days imprisonment (MGL C148 S34).

How Mulch Fires Start

  • In many mulch fires, the smoldering mulch tunnels under the surface and then breaks out into open flame.
  • Mulch that is piled too deeply, more than a few inches, can build up heat and spontaneously catch fire.
  • Mulch fires start more readily when the weather is hot and it has been dry for an extended time.
  • Factors such as below-average rainfall, dry conditions, warm temperatures, and high winds increase the risk of mulch fires.
Source: FireFACTORS – Office of the State Fire Marshal, Massachusetts Dept of Fire Services

Open Burning Season Reminder

Open Burning Season Starts January 15 and Ends April 30

To request a permit to burn, please call 978-671-0940 between 9:30am and 3:00pm.

A permit must be obtained from the Billerica Fire Department prior to any burning. Permits are issued daily and are only valid for the date on which they were issued. Residents must call to request a new permit each day they wish to conduct open burning. An open burning permit can be obtained by calling the Billerica Fire Department at 978-671-0940. When calling to request a permit, be prepared to provide your name, address, and a phone number at which you will be able to be reached throughout your burning. Please read the following information regarding open burning regulations, safety considerations, and other related information.

Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in the spring, and fire officials will determine on a daily basis when it is safe to conduct open burning. If winds kick up or other atmospheric conditions change suddenly, making it unsafe to burn, permits can be rescinded.

All open burning must be conducted in accordance with the Department of Environmental Protection regulations (310 CMR DEP 7.07). Regulations state that open burning must be a minimum of 75 feet from all buildings, must be conducted between the hours of 10am and 4pm, and must take place on the land closest to the source of material to be burned. Keep a source of extinguishment ready and easily accessible during burning.

With a permit, burning the following materials is allowed:

  • Brush, cane, driftwood, and forestry debris from other than commercial or industrial land clearing operations.
  • Materials normally associated with the pursuit of agriculture such as fruit tree prunings, dead raspberry stalks, blueberry patches for pruning purposes, and infected bee hives for disease control.
  • Trees and brush resulting from agricultural land clearing.
  • Fungus infected elm wood, if no other acceptable means of disposal is available.

Burning of the following materials is prohibited statewide:

  • Brush, trees, cane and driftwood from commercial and/or industrial land clearing operations.
  • Grass, hay, leaves and stumps.
  • Tires.
  • Construction material and debris.


Open Burning Safety Tips

How to Safely Ignite the Fire

An adult should always be present during open burning and children and pets should be kept a safe distance away. Use paper and kindling to start the fire and add progressively larger pieces of wood. Parts of a leftover Christmas tree may also be used.

Never use gasoline, kerosene, or any other flammable liquid to start a fire because the risk of personal injury is high.

Burn one small pile at a time and slowly add to it. This will help keep the fire from getting out of control. Select a location away from any utility lines.

Fire Must Be Attended Until Extinguished

While the fire is burning, an adult must attend the fire until it is completely extinguished.

Have Fire Control Tools On Hand

Have fire extinguishment materials on hand including a water supply, shovels, and rakes.

The water supply could be a pressurized water fire extinguisher, a pump can or garden hose. Be sure to test your water supply before igniting the fire. You do not want to find out that the water is still shut-off at the house faucet or that the hose is cracked when you need it most.

Watch the Wind: Be Prepared to Extinguish All Open Burning

Be prepared to extinguish your fire if the winds pick up or weather changes. Use common sense and don’t wait for the fire department to contact you that it has become unsafe to burn. Sudden wind change is how most open burning gets out of control.

Don’t Delay a Call For Help

If for some reason, the fire should get out of control, call the fire department immediately.

Use the utmost caution to prevent injury to yourself or family members or any damage by fire to your home.

People conducting illegal burning, or who allow a fire to get out of control, may be held liable for costs of extinguishing the fire, fined and even imprisoned (MGL C48 S13).

April is the Cruelest Month

April is usually the worst month for brush fires. When the snow pack recedes, before new growth emerges, last year’s dead grass, leaves and wood are dangerous tinder. Winds also tend to be stronger and more unpredictable during April.

Prevent Wildfires By Burning During Wet Snowy Conditions

Prevent permit fires from becoming wildland fires by burning early in the season. Wet and snowy winter conditions hinder the rapid spread of fire on or under the ground. Weather conditions and increased fire danger may lead to many days when burning cannot be allowed to take place.

Alternatives to Open Burning

Open burning releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, other gases, and solid substances directly into the air. This can contribute to respiratory problems. Disposal of natural materials is never as good for the environment as using them again in a different form. Tree limbs, brush and other forestry debris can be chipped or composted into landscaping material.

Information Source: FireFACTORS – Office of the State Fire Marshal, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services