California wildfires rekindle debate on Firestarter pyrotechnics ban

Uncategorized By May 15, 2023

Calls to ban firestarter pyrotechnics in California have been renewed as the state experiences yet another devastating wildfire season. Critics say such a ban will hinder individual freedom and hurt legitimate industries, while proponents believe that it would limit the risk of human-caused fires and save lives and resources. Firestarter pyrotechnics are devices used for starting campfires, lighting fireworks or signalling emergency. The devices often contain flammable materials like magnesium, iron or zirconium which burn at high temperatures and spread quickly. While it is undetermined what a potential regulatory ban would look like, some feel that banning the most dangerous or unnecessary items may prove a success in reducing wildfires.

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California Wildfires Rekindle Debate on Firestarter Pyrotechnics Ban

As California faces another devastating wildfire season, some officials and activists are renewing calls to prohibit the use and sale of “firestarter pyrotechnics” that they say can ignite blazes or exacerbate existing ones. While critics argue that such a ban would infringe on individual freedom and hurt legitimate industries, proponents say it would reduce the risk of human-caused fires and save lives, property, and resources.


Firestarter pyrotechnics are small devices that produce sparks or flames for recreational or practical purposes, such as starting campfires, lighting fireworks, or signaling emergency. They often contain flammable materials such as magnesium, iron, or zirconium, which can burn at high temperatures and spread quickly in dry or windy conditions. Some variants emit sparks that can travel up to several feet, while others shoot flames up to several inches.

In California, firestarter pyrotechnics have been implicated in multiple wildfires over the years, including the 2018 Holy Fire that burned over 23,000 acres and destroyed 18 structures in Orange County, allegedly sparked by a resident using a steel rod and a hammer to ignite a smoke bomb during a dispute with neighbors. In 2020, similar devices were suspected of causing several fires, such as the El Dorado Fire that burned over 22,000 acres and killed a firefighter in San Bernardino County, ignited by a family using a “gender reveal” party device that shot colored smoke and sparked a grassy area.

Current regulations

In California, firestarter pyrotechnics are regulated by different laws and agencies, depending on their type and intended use. Some items, such as common matches and lighters, are subject to federal standards and can be sold to anyone without age limits or permits. Other items, such as torches, flares, and fireworks, are subject to state and local laws that can restrict their use, sale, possession, or transportation. For example, fireworks are generally banned in most of California except for specific cities and days, and violators can face fines and criminal charges.

However, some firestarter pyrotechnics fall into a regulatory gap or loophole that allows them to be sold and used without much oversight. For example, smoke bombs, sparklers, and party poppers are classified as “novelty items” that do not require permits or inspections, even though they contain flammable chemicals and can cause fires. Moreover, even if a fire is caused by a specific device, it can be hard to trace the source and hold the users or the manufacturers accountable, especially if they claim they followed the instructions or warnings.

Debate on the ban

In the wake of the latest wildfires, some lawmakers and activists have proposed a statewide ban on firestarter pyrotechnics or at least on the most dangerous or unnecessary ones. Supporters of the ban argue that it would:

– Reduce the risk of human-caused fires that often result from careless or unaware use of firestarter pyrotechnics, especially in high-risk areas or during dry seasons;
– Decrease the burden on emergency responders and resources that have to handle more frequent and intense fires, risking their safety and availability;
– Protect property and wildlife that can be destroyed or harmed by fires that start or spread from firestarter pyrotechnics, especially in rural or wildland areas where fires can be harder to contain or evacuate;
– Align with other states and countries that have already banned or restricted firestarter pyrotechnics or similar items, such as Arizona, Florida, Oregon, and Australia.

Opponents of the ban argue that it would:

– Infringe on individual freedom and choice to use firestarter pyrotechnics for legitimate and harmless purposes, such as camping, hunting, or celebrating;
– Hurt small businesses and industries that rely on the sales and distribution of firestarter pyrotechnics, such as fireworks stands, party stores, or online retailers;
– Discriminate against certain communities or traditions that use firestarter pyrotechnics as part of their culture or identity, such as Native American tribes or ethnic groups;
– Fail to address the root causes of wildfires, such as climate change, drought, or forest management practices, and shift the blame and responsibility to individuals and products.


Q: What are some examples of firestarter pyrotechnics that could be banned?
A: Some examples are smoke bombs, sky lanterns, firecrackers, party sparklers, snappers, and M-80s.

Q: Would a ban on firestarter pyrotechnics also affect common household items like matches and lighters?
A: No, matches and lighters are already regulated by federal standards and would not be affected by a state ban on firestarter pyrotechnics.

Q: Are there any exceptions or exemptions to a ban on firestarter pyrotechnics?
A: It depends on the specific language and scope of the ban. Some proposed bans may include exceptions for licensed professionals, such as pyrotechnicians, or for certain limited uses, such as public displays or emergencies.

Q: How can consumers or users determine if a firestarter pyrotechnic device is safe or legal to use?
A: Consumers should always read and follow the instructions, warnings, and labels on the packaging of any firestarter pyrotechnic device. They should also check with their local fire department or law enforcement agency about the regulations and restrictions on such items in their area. Additionally, consumers should never use firestarter pyrotechnics in or near flammable materials, such as dry grass, trees, or buildings, and should always have a means of extinguishing any fire that may start.