Bonfires - safety and the law
If you are having a bonfire, whether it's to get rid of garden waste or part of a celebration, like Guy Fawkes night, take care. Follow the simple tips below to make sure you, and others, are safe and acting lawfully.
Building a bonfire
Fire can spread easily, so where and how you build your bonfire is important. If you have a bonfire, follow these simple guidelines:
- warn your neighbours beforehand - they are much less likely to complain
- light the bonfire at a time least likely to affect your neighbours - eg not on a warm day when people will be in their garden
- only burn dry material not damp, which causes more smoke
- build the bonfire away from sheds, fences and trees
- check there are no cables - like telephone wires - above the bonfire
- don't use petrol or paraffin to get the fire going, it may get out of control quickly
Bonfire safety tips
Once the bonfire is lit, make sure you:
- keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby - in case of emergencies
- don't leave the bonfire unattended
- keep children and pets away from the bonfire
- don't throw any fireworks into the fire
- don't burn aerosols, tyres, canisters or anything containing foam or paint - many produce toxic fumes and some containers may explode, causing injury
Once the bonfire has died down, spray the embers with water to stop it reigniting.
Getting rid of your garden waste without a bonfire
You can get rid of your garden waste without making a bonfire. Most garden waste, like grass cuttings and leaves, can be recycled by composting.
Complaining to your council about your neighbours bonfires
If your neighbour has a bonfire and it affects you, speak to them and explain the problem. They may not be aware of the distress they are causing and may have not thought about other ways to dispose of the waste, like composting.
If speaking to your neighbour fails, contact your local council's environmental health department. In most cases, officers from the council will try to deal with the problem informally.
To be considered a nuisance, bonfires need to be a regular occurrence and seriously interfere with your well-being. If the bonfire is only occasional, eg a couple of times a year, its unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law.
If the council considers a bonfire to be a nuisance, it can issue an abatement notice. This notice may mean your neighbour must stop having bonfires completely. If they do not stick to the notice (comply) they face a fine of up to £5000 and a further £500 for each day they don't comply.
Bonfires and the law
There aren't any specific laws against having a bonfire, but there are several laws that deal with the nuisance bonfires can cause.
Burning domestic waste
It is an offence to get rid of domestic waste in a way likely to cause pollution or harm to human health, including burning it.
Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates poisonous fumes and can have damaging health effects for people who have asthmatic or heart conditions.
This is covered under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Danger to traffic caused by smoke
Under the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. If this happens, call the police.
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