Garden bonfires in autumn: what to keep in mind

Planning any domestic bonfires? Remember, remember these garden bonfire rules this November.


Garden bonfire in a brick fire pit

Key steps

  1. Don’t burn household waste.
  2. Choose a spot with open space around and above it, and prepare the area to prevent the fire spreading.
  3. Keep a bucket of water to hand, just in case.
  4. Dispose of the ashes carefully, and only when they’re completely cool.

Guy Fawkes Night is approaching, and you may be thinking about having your own bonfire to warm up the cold evenings. Domestic bonfires can be a lot of fun, but you’ll want to make sure they’re memorable for all the right reasons. Here’s some advice on what to remember, remember this fifth of November.

For evening parties and gatherings around garden bonfires, make sure there’s always a responsible adult around to keep an eye on things – who is sticking to the hot chocolate.

Rules on lighting bonfires

Legally, having garden bonfires is fine in the UK, but there are a few garden bonfire rules that might get you into legal trouble if they’re breached. The government webpage ‘Garden bonfires: the rules’ sets out the basics, but here they are in summary:

  • Do not burn household waste ­– it could create pollution or health risks, which is not legal. Stick to wood.
  • You can’t let the smoke from your fire drift across a road, obscuring the vision of drivers.
  •  If you’re having regular bonfires and your neighbours complain, your council may order you to stop or comply with certain restrictions. If you don’t comply, you could be fined up to £5,000.

There’s no legal requirement, but it’s worth letting your neighbours know beforehand when you’re planning to hold a bonfire, rather than letting them discover it when the smoke starts wafting across their clean laundry.

There are no specific laws on bonfires during the day, but holding regular daylight bonfires in pleasant weather, when your neighbours may want to relax in their gardens, may risk someone complaining to the council. Bonfires can also be a problem on very hot days, because the smoke will prevent people from opening their windows.

Safety tips for garden bonfires

If you just toss a match into a pile of garden waste and hope for the best, your garden bonfire could end up becoming a house bonfire. Here’s some advice on keeping the fire controlled.

  • Don’t light a bonfire on a windy day.
  • Don’t light a bonfire under or near trees, fences, sheds or buildings. There should be plenty of open space around the fire. Ideally, the fire should be at least five times its own height in distance from any property.
  • Make sure there aren’t any cables above the fire. The space above the fire should be completely clear.
  • Clear the space where you’re hoping to have the fire itself, and surround it with a tight, dense circle of large stones or bricks to prevent the fire from spreading.
  • Make sure you’re burning dry material; wet or green wood will be harder to burn and will produce more smoke.
  • Keep a couple of buckets of water or a hose nearby, in case things start getting out of hand.
  • Don’t use liquid accelerant: it can make the fire much harder to control.
  • Keep children well away from the domestic bonfires and shut pets in the home.
  • Never, ever leave the fire unattended.

Cleaning up after garden bonfires

Once your bonfire has died down, you’ll be left with a lot of ash. Be careful about disposing of this. Ashes are hot, and they can stay hot for a very long time. Throwing them straight into the bin, even if a full day has passed, could leave you dealing with an unwanted new fire.

Leave the ashes to cool for a few days if you can, then shovel them into a metal container and wet them through. Keep the container outside your home, away from anything that could catch light. Don’t put the ashes in the rubbish until you’re sure they’re completely cool: forget about them for a week or two, ideally.

This is something to bear in mind even when you’re clearing out ashes from a regular indoor fire in your fireplace. Always be careful when you’re disposing of ash; it can stay hot enough to reignite for days.

If you’re wondering whether you can find a use for all that ash, a sprinkling of wood ash (not coal ash!) can help to reduce the acidity of your compost heap, or of your soil, if you’re having trouble growing plants that favour alkaline conditions. Keep the ash away from any plants that need acidic soil, though, or from soil that’s already alkaline. You can also spread ash on paths to melt ice in cold weather.

You may also have muddy footprints in your home after Bonfire Night, so take a look at our article on how to get mud out of carpet!

Originally published