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How to build a better, safer bonfire


Fire and light play a hugely important part in many celebrations over the winter period, from Halloween to Diwali to Bonfire Night. Whether we attend huge public events in local parks or smaller private gatherings, many of us will be used to the sights, smells and sounds of a roaring open fire and the constant bang of fireworks overhead.

But perhaps this year you fancy building your own bonfire for a change?

Before you get started, we've put together a short guide on how to build a better (and safer) bonfire that will leave your guests seriously impressed...

Choose a safe spot

Before anything else, you need somewhere suitable to build your bonfire. Make sure it’s an open space with plenty of room – the site should be "away from trees, fences and if possible nearby residences," according to our environment team. A good rule of thumb is that the bonfire should be a minimum distance of 5 times its height from the nearest property. Also, watch out for overhead cables and telephone wires.

Warn your neighbours

If you are planning a bonfire, tell your neighbours well in advance to avoid complaints. Our environment team advices not to light a bonfire when your neighbours have windows open, washing out, or are spending time in their garden. People will appreciate the warning because it means they can make plans to be elsewhere, ensure all their windows are closed, or stay indoors if they choose.

Crack out the shovel

The first step is to grab a shovel and start digging. You’ll need a pit of around 3-inches deep and you’ll need it to be slightly wider than you want your bonfire to be. Bricks, rocks and big logs can be used to line the edges of the pit and you should then add a flat bed of charcoal in the centre. All of these materials should be dry to avoid excess smoke (which nobody wants).

Start building a ‘teepee’

Now the fun really begins. A ‘teepee’ shape can be achieved by laying your tinder (twigs, dried leaves, grass, etc.) over the briquettes, followed by small kindling placed at a 45-degree angle, meeting in the middle. Medium-sized timber should be then be placed parallel to one another on either side of the kindling, leaving you with several perpendicular layers. Logs can be placed at intervals around the base.

Tip: There should be gaps to allow air to reach the tinder, so don’t pack it too tightly.

Secure the shape with twine

Some sources say to use twine to tie together long pieces of thin kindling, ensuring that they touch both the base and the top of the bonfire. The twine ensure that the shape is maintained.

Light your fire

The final step is to light your bonfire by dropping a lit match inside the ‘teepee’ in its centre. Wood can then be added as needed. And voila – you have yourself a bonfire. Just remember to have water, sand and a fire extinguisher to hand, in case your bonfire does get out of control. When you’re done, pour on water until it’s completely out and then pile dirt on top.

Tip: Avoid using petrol and paraffin. These substances can get out of control very easily and should not be used to start your bonfire.

See out the night with fireworks

You can't have a bonfire without providing fireworks too! This year, as in previous years, councils across the UK are encouraging people to ditch dangerous sky lanterns and stick with a safe and controlled firework display instead.

Don’t forget fire safety

Bonfires can get out of control when they aren’t handled correctly, so we recommend following some further safety tips:

  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby in case of emergencies
  • Keep children and pets away from the bonfire
  • Do burn in small quantities, quickly in order to minimise the volume of smoke
  • Don't leave any fire unattended
  • Don’t throw any fireworks into the fire
  • Don't burn man-made material waste like plastics or rubber, as these may create heavy toxic smoke
  • Don't burn damp green waste as this produces thick smoke

Planning a bonfire? Read more information on bonfires, dust and odours from our environment team.