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Bonfires and their Subtleties

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Domestic Bonfires


"Now is the autumn of our discontent
Made very vexing by our Neighbour's Bonfires'"

Yes now is the season of garden tidying and bonfires, so here is the lowdown on domestic bonfires, from South Somerset District Council.

The bonfire takes its name from the medieval bon-fire of animal bones. While the modern day bonfire ingredients are on the whole less gruesome, burning waste materials can cause pollution and local nuisance.
Every year the district council receives a significant number of complaints from residents concerning domestic bonfires. Domestic bonfires can be very irritating to neighbours, the smoke can ruin the enjoyment of your neighbours gardens, prevent them from opening their windows or hanging out their washing. They can also reduce visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads causing safety hazards.
Domestic bonfires also cause air pollution. Air pollution can have damaging health effects and people with existing health problems are especially vulnerable.
Domestic bonfires can also be dangerous from a safety point of view, spreading to fences or neighbouring buildings, and they are often used by hibernating animals as a safe refuge.
What are the alternatives?
There are other disposal methods which are far less environmentally damaging such as:
Collection, Composting and Recycling. Click here for more information Composting and recycling

The Legal Bit
Many people wrongly assume that there are specific byelaws prohibiting garden bonfires or specifying certain times when they are allowable – there aren't!!
However, this does not mean you have a license to burn indiscriminately. Occasionally, it may be the best practicable way to dispose of woody or diseased waste that cannot be composted. And bonfires are used to mark traditional celebrations – especially the 5th November.
Environmental Protection Act 1990
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is an offence to dispose of your domestic waste in a way likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health. In practice you should not burn waste that is likely to create excessive smoke or noxious fumes.
Most bonfire problems are addressed under nuisance legislation. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes, or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance". In practice, a fire would have to be a recurrent, persistent problem, interfering with substantially with neighbour's well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property.
If a bonfire of industrial or commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993 – this includes the burning of such material in your garden! Under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is illegal to dispose of waste that is not from your property – for example from your workplace or from your neighbour and small tradesmen must not burn waste from site at home.
But I like Bonfires.....
A bonfire can be a useful way of disposing of garden waste that cannot be composted or perhaps you want a bonfire to mark an event like Bonfire night. If you do have a bonfire, warn your neighbours- they are much less likely to complain and follow these good bonfire guidelines:
Bonfire Guidelines
Only burn dry material
Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions – smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days. If it is too windy smoke blows into neighbour's gardens and windows and across roads.
Keep your fire away from trees, fences and buildings
Never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire – you could damage yourself as well as the environment
Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder – put it out.
If you require further information/advice or want to make a complaint about a nuisance bonfire, please contact the Environmental Protection Team at South Somerset District Council on 01935 462462 or email

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