How to have a better Bonfire Night

Bonfire safety guidelines

  • Check the weather. Never build a bonfire on a high-wind night.
  • Make sure the area where you start your bonfire is a legal location. Check your state’s laws and regulations about fires before you begin.
  • Keep a bucket of water or garden hose nearby in case the fire begins to spread. It is important to be prepared in case of emergency.
  • Keep a close eye on the bonfire as well as children nearby. This will help protect others around you.
  • Do not burn aerosols, canisters or anything containing foam or paint. These types of chemicals have extremely flammable ingredients that can cause fire to spread or produce toxic fumes. Containers of these products could explode, causing injury.
  • Ensure the wood you are burning is dry and seasoned. This means no railroad ties, nothing coated or treated and no furniture should be thrown in the fire.
  • The pile shouldn’t be bigger than 5′ x 5′ to keep the flames containable.
  • After the bonfire is done, turn over the charred materials with metal shovels and rakes, and douse the area with water.


What can You Burn in a Bonfire?

You should only stick with burning dry materials. Burning wet materials might result in popping and flying sparks. It poses a risk to bystanders.

According to an article from “Which?” [2], below is the list of items you can burn in a bonfire:

  • untreated wood
  • brambles
  • hedge clippings
  • rose prunings
  • holly leaves
  • Yew trimmings.
  • weeds such as bindweed, ground elder or couch grass

However, I would not burn most of the materials on this list, as I prefer to save them for composting.

I would stick with burning woods. Softwoods such as spruce, cedar, or pine will light easier and burn faster than hardwoods. Some examples of hardwoods are oak, eucalyptus, and citrus. If you want the light the fire quickly, you could consider adding fire starters. Since I will be cooking with the bonfire, I would pick fire starters that are non-toxic and with no added-chemical. Make sure the product labels or description read that they could be used for cooking and outdoor fire pit.

Furthermore, it is essential that the wood is certified and kiln-dried. It gives more confident that the woods could be pest-free and disease-free.

I prefer manufacturers that have some eco-friendly policy in place. For example, their wood products are harvested from naturally fallen trees due to old age, storms, or lightning, and not coming from live trees. Or they would plant multiple trees for every one they used. I would apply the same principle when choosing hardwood fire logs.

According to the same article, “What can you burn on a bonfire” from “Which?, you should never put any of the following in the bonfire.

  • Glass, metal, mattresses, paint tins, batteries, aerosol cans, fireworks, foam furniture, plastic, rubber, treated wood, tires, general household rubbish

I understand it is tempting to burn all your unwanted items. But we should be considerate to the environment too, as many deposable could create toxic smoke. Besides, it would not be a good idea for your children to inhale them.

Before you add dry materials into the fire pit, you should also inspect that there are no metals such as pins, nails or staples on them. As the fire heats up, they could be extremely dangerous as they could fly out and injure bystanders.

Step 4: Construction: Pyramid

The pyramid fire is a personal favorite. It uses fuel in a very efficient way by burning from the top down. This means it takes a little longer before you get the full effect, and it does not give off quite as much heat and light, but these structures are much more stable and can be build up very tall with enough wood. The idea here is that heat and coals from the fire on the layer above trickle down to ignite the next layer below. You need to have a nice gradient of log sizes to get this to work, but you can have a fire last for hours without touching it once. A couple of large logs are set on the bottom for stability and to give some room off the ground for air to circulate. On these are stacked successively smaller and smaller rows of logs perpendicular to the previous row. Do not fit the logs tight against one another, but give some room for air to come through. For extra stability, logs can be split in half and laid flat side down. To start the pile, I will often build a lean-to fire or a hunters fire on top. A lean-to, as its name implies, is a bunch of kindling leaning against a log and full of tinder underneath. The difference in a hunters fire is the addition of another log parallel to the first so that they form walls, and the kindling lays across the top as a flat roof and has lots of tinder (with room to breathe of course) underneath.

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3) Set a friendly fire

Having a bonfire at home? Burn only clean, dry and natural materials, like untreated wood and garden waste, to minimise pollution. Burning plastics or manmade materials releases harmful chemical pollutants and lowers air quality.

Stay protected

If you plan on having a bonfire this summer, talk to your independent insurance agent about insurance coverage you may need to protect your family, your home and your assets. Looking for insurance guidance? Find an agent in your area.


Sources:Mosquito Magnet Living the Country LifeFarm Bureau Financial Services

LC 2018-304


Dos and don’ts of having a bonfire at home

If you are the one lighting a bonfire in the garden, doing it correctly can prevent many of the problems associated with them, and help you avoid any complaints. Consider the following dos and dont’s:

  • Do time your bonfire correctly: While legally you can do this any time of day or night, it is common courtesy to plan your bonfire in a way that it finishes burning at dusk. Early morning and early evening are the best times for bonfires. 
  • Do consider placement: Ensure you keep yours away from any outer buildings, trees or outdoor furniture, be sure to give it plenty of room. ‘Bonfire builders should ensure the fire is positioned away from sheds, fences, trees and other outbuildings.’
  • Do let your neighbours know: While you can’t always coordinate your bonfire around all your neighbours, letting them know you’re planning to burn one will help them plan any washing they might have been hanging out, or how they’ll use their garden that day.
  • Do be considerate of wildlife: Helping to protect hedgehogs and other garden residents is important in all seasons but most especially around Bonfire night as they can be a big danger hazard. Ensure that the spot you choose to light your bonfire is away from leaf piles or anything that could in fact be a creature’s home. ‘Large mounds of leaves and dirt need to be avoided when picking a location for the fire, as these can often be hibernating homes for hedgehogs in the autumn months.’
  • Do consider wind direction: Determining this before you light your bonfire in the garden could avoid unnecessary smoke in the neighbours garden so do bear it in mind.
  • Do take safety seriously: It goes without saying that children and pets should be supervised at all times, that you should keep a safe viewing distance and that the person lighting the bonfire should wear all appropriate protective gear. Ensure you keep a water supply close by also should you need to distinguish any flames and to spray down any remaining embers when your bonfire is drawing to a close. Be sure that your bonfire’s flames have completely gone out before you walk away.
  • Do stay vigilant: Pay attention at all times to ensure your bonfire is burning safely and to know if you need to act. ‘If any bonfires appear to be getting out of control this Bonfire Night, back away from the fire and call 999 immediately. Request the Fire & Rescue Service.’
  • Don’t burn wet or green matter: This will almost certainly cause excess smoke that will annoy your neighbours. Most councils collect green garden waste separately – or you can compost it. ‘One tip is to try and bend any wood before throwing it into the fire. Any wood that bends rather than breaking is too moist and should not be used.’
  • Don’t burn or build your bonfire with straw, bark or hay: This is a fire hazard and prohibited by most councils.
  • Do not burn rubber, oil, or plastic: This violates environmental protection laws. If it burns black, you shouldn’t be burning it. Consider also any coatings that some wood may have, ‘Wood that is covered in paint may cause safety concerns when trying to distinguish the fire due to the paint being flammable.’
  • Do not use any fire accelerants: Using petrol, paraffin or other accelerants can too easily lead to a loss of control of the fire.
  • Don’t let smoke drift into a public highway: It is against the law to have smoke drift onto a public highway. You could be fined £5,000 if this happens.  
  • Don’t leave a bonfire unattended: You must remain vigilant on all fronts. And as mentioned, children and pets should be supervised at all times.
  • Don’t leave cans of drink around the fire: The fumes from aluminium are actually toxic, so don’t drink anything from a can if it’s been left.
  • Don’t leave any flames or embers to die down by themselves: When you are ending the bonfire, do not leave the site until you are 100% sure that all the flames are extinguished and that there is no chance of re-ignition.

9) Turn away from lanterns

Sky lanterns might be less polluting than fireworks but their wireframes are a significant risk to wildlife and livestock who can ingest or become entangled in them. As an alternative, try decorating an area with fairy lights or outdoor lamps instead to create a magical outdoor experience.

Step 2: Preparations

Once the fire is going, it’s too late to move it away from the side of the barn, off of the natural gas line, or to tell the police that you just dropped your cigarette. Do some thinking about what the fire is going to be like, and how it is going to behave. You need space. Depending on the size, a comfortable standing distance around a bonfire can be 50′ away! Anything within that range will be very hot for an extended period of time. The leaves on any trees overhead will die. Even if the flames do not touch them, the superheated air will kill them. Make sure the car is moved out of the way, and there is nothing flammable within that range (including plant matter.) Air is not a stationary force in your fire either. The wind can wreak havoc on a poorly made structure, and carry sparks into that gas can you thought was put away “well enough.” Keep track of the wind, and if it is very windy, give up or be prepared to spend all night tracking down unwanted island fires. Also be aware that the heat of the fire penetrates into the ground and kills all the microbes necessary for other things to grow. There will be a bald spot where the fire was for a very, very long time. To help avoid this, you can lay down a tarp and cover it with lots and lots of dirt to shield the actual ground from some heat. The bigger your fire, the wider and thicker the dirt pile should be. Blah, blah, fire-extinguishers, blah, blah, water, blah, blah, stupid drunk people… If you need help with this part, stop reading and get the fire department to sponsor your party (they will probably be happy to, but they will drink all your beer.) Be aware that there may be restrictions on fires depending on where you live, and it is your responsibility to find that out.

Is it illegal to have a bonfire in your backyard?

Each city or state could have their rules pertain to having a bonfire in the backyard. Checking with your local government is necessary. Some municipality would specify:

  • What is the time of the day where a campfire is permitted?
  • How large in diameter and how high could the fire get?
  • What kind of items can you burn and what cannot?
  • How far the bonfire needs to be away a structure or combustible material?

Illegal burning may result in a fine. However, the key in complying with the fire code is not merely to avoid paying the fine. It is to ensure the safety of everyone.

Furthermore, you should review your home insurance policy or contact your insurance agent to understand their terms and conditions about a bonfire in your backyard.


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