Got Fireworks? If You Use Them, Insurance Might Deny Fire Claims

Amateur fireworks are illegal in most Bay Area cities, and you could be on the hook for damages if yours start a fire or hurt someone.

Photo of fireworks

As Independence Day approaches, the temptation to set off fireworks early has proven too much for many amateur rocketeers.

If you're thinking about providing your own fireworks display for friends and neighbors (whether they want it or not), be warned: any accidental damage the explosives cause could cost you a fortune.

First and foremost, fireworks are dangerous. In its newly-released Fireworks Annual Report, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 10,000 people were hospitalized with fireworks-related injuries last year. Of those, just over a third were children. Twelve people died.

CPSC researchers said often, the people who are seriously hurt by fireworks are innocent bystanders.

"Victims are often injured by fireworks used by other people," the CPSC said. "This is especially true for rockets ... and aerial shells (e.g., multiple-tube and reloadable devices), which can injure people located some distance away from where the fireworks are launched."

There are legal concerns, too. Generally, any kind of fireworks that go up into the sky are illegal in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection defines illegal fireworks as "sky rockets, bottle rockets, Roman candles, aerial shells, firecrackers, [and] other fireworks that explode, go into the air, or move on the ground in an uncontrollable manner." It's illegal to even posses such fireworks. Punishment for using illegal fireworks can include fines of $50,000 and a year in jail.

Even if you have fireworks that are labeled "Safe and Sane" and legal in California, your city may not allow them. All fireworks are illegal in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, and most other Bay Area cities. Click here for a complete list of California cities that allow the use of approved amateur fireworks.

If the safety risks, law enforcement crackdowns, complaints from neighbors, and substantial fire risk aren't enough to dissuade you from using fireworks, perhaps the threat of losing your home and belongings will change your mind.

Jason Metz, an insurance analyst with Forbes Advisor, says homeowner and renter's insurance policies won't cover damage caused by the customer's use of illegal fireworks.

“If the fireworks are illegal in your state or locality, most likely, you’re not going to have coverage under your homeowner’s or renter’s or condo insurance," Metz said.

For example, if you're setting off small rockets in the street -- illegal anywhere in California -- and one lands on your roof, starting a fire, your insurance claim would probably be denied.

"If you have illegal fireworks, you are risking, obviously, your house -- a house fire can be devastating, and it can destroy not only your house but all of your personal belongings," Metz said. "If you didn’t have coverage for that, you would have to pay out of pocket to rebuild your house and replace everything."

The same could apply if your fireworks start a wildfire or damage someone else's home, Metz said. Your insurance would not cover damage caused by illegal fireworks, and you could held personally liable.

"A lot of people aren't thinking about their insurance when they're using fireworks," Metz said. "They're going across the border to grab some fireworks that might be legal in a different state, but when they come back and launch them in their own yard, they're not thinking about the insurance problems that could result from that, and they could be catastrophic."

What if someone else's illegal fireworks damage your home? Don't worry -- your insurance should still cover that claim, Metz said.

"Let's say somebody you don't know is lighting off fireworks and an errant firework hits your house and starts a fire; you would be able to file a claim under your homeowner's insurance policy," he said.

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