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The burning question – what are the legal restrictions on bonfires?

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 05 November 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
People around a bonfire

It’s the 5th of November, and people around the country are preparing to celebrate Bonfire Night with firework displays and of course the traditional bonfire. But if you want to set up a bonfire in your own back garden, what laws do you need to follow? We take a look.

Bonfires and the law

There aren’t actually a lot of regulations pertaining to lighting a bonfire on your own land. Many people are under the impression that you can only light bonfires at certain times or on certain days, but this isn’t true. There are only two real legal restrictions on a one-off bonfire for a Guy Fawkes celebration.

Firstly, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 forbids the burning of any substance that will release fumes which could cause pollution to the environment or harm to human health. This includes things like plastic, rubber, or painted items. It really should go without saying, but don’t burn anything that could result in a health hazard.

The other legal restriction on bonfires comes from the Highways Act 1980, which says that you are guilty of a criminal offence if anyone on a public road is “injured, interrupted or endangered” by fire or smoke from your bonfire.

While it is again common sense not to let the flames spread beyond your property, the more likely issue here is the smoke. Essentially, if nearby road users are impeded by a lack of visibility due to smoke from your bonfire, you could be charged with a criminal offence. If you think there’s any risk of the smoke spreading in this way, it’s best not to light a bonfire.

Other things to consider when planning a bonfire

While legal limitations on lighting a bonfire are pretty limited, that doesn’t mean you should be careless or inconsiderate. You should also remember that if you light a fire which gets out of control and causes property damage or injury, the law will certainly have a few things to say about that.

You can find some advice on general fireworks and bonfire safety on the Chief Fire Officers Association website.

And while it’s unlikely that a neighbour annoyed by your bonfire will be able to take any formal action against you (unless you are having frequent bonfires and causing a ‘nuisance’ to the local community), it’s generally best to let others know about the bonfire ahead of time if it is likely to affect them or their property. You may also want to try and burn substances which do not produce too much smoke.

Have a great Bonfire Night!

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