The bonfire takes its name from the medieval bon-fire of animal bones. While modern day bonfire ingredients are on the whole less gruesome, burning waste materials can cause pollution and local nuisance. Fires have been used throughout the centuries – to mark occasions, as signals and to dispose of waste. However, we now have alternatives for disposing of most materials – and burning some things is illegal.
What is wrong with having a Bonfire?
Burning garden waste produces smoke – especially if that waste is green or damp. This will emit harmful pollutants including particles and dioxins. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates noxious fumes that give off a range of poisonous compounds.
Air pollution can have damaging health effects, and people with existing health problems are especially vulnerable, e.g. asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions, children and the elderly.
Smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires have long been a source of a significant number of complaints to local authorities every year. Smoke prevents neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. Allotments near homes can cause problems if plot holders persistently burn green waste, and leave fires smouldering.
Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Exploding bottles and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned. Piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by animals, so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.
How do I complain about a Garden Bonfire?
If bothered by smoke, approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feel awkward but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing and it will hopefully make them more considerate in the future. If this fails please Make an Environmental Health Complaint,
We will investigate your complaint and must issue a notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if we consider a nuisance is being caused. The Act also allows you to take private action in the Magistrates’ Court. However, if a fire is a one-off it may be difficult to prove a nuisance. Similarly, if you are troubled from bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would be difficult as there are several offenders. In this situation encourage them to consider the alternatives.
Finally, under section 161A of the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic or causes injury. Contact the police if this is the case.