Bonfire Advice

Thinking of having a bonfire with your fireworks? Some advice and tips for you.

In this article I’ll run through some important things to think about before having a bonfire, starting with back garden displays and then moving on to bigger public displays.

Bonfires in the back garden

The typical back garden in the UK is great for either a bonfire, or for fireworks, but quite often not both at the same time. The reason is that both your bonfire and your fireworks need space around them. 

Once you have situated your fireworks at a safe distance – which is usually the bottom of the garden – there’s not really anywhere for the bonfire to go, except between the fireworks and the spectators.

This would make having a bonfire before the fireworks display very dangerous, as embers from the fire might set fire to some of your pyro. It would also make having a bonfire during the display hazardous, from smoke, embers and potentially blocking off an escape route for you if you’re hand firing. And the smoke might also obscure some of the display.

In cases like this, if you really must have a bonfire, my recommendation is to light it after your display so that the fireworks are no longer at risk and you can relax a little knowing there is no longer any live pyro on site. This will also enable you to situate the bonfire a little closer to the fireworks, since it won’t be lit until all the fireworks have fired.

If you have a bigger garden at your disposal, my recommendation is still to have your bonfire after your display as it’s simply safer this way. But, if you must have the fire first, ensure both space and wind direction is taken into account. 

In any case, for back garden bonfires I also suggest you consider an incinerator or chiminea, as it helps to contain the fire, is easier to control and is no less atmospheric once you’re all gathered around it.

Incinerators are ideal for smaller spaces or to keep your bonfire contained.

Bonfires at bigger and public displays

I appreciate at larger events that lighting the bonfire after the fireworks isn’t an option, since a lot of the audience has a habit of disappearing after the fireworks have finished. I’ve been to many dozens of community events and they’ve all worked well with large fires because of the following things in common:

  • There’s a significant amount of space around the bonfire.
  • The bonfire is well away from the fireworks and, ideally, downwind of them.
  • The bonfire is clearly roped off.
  • One or more marshals are present to ensure people don’t get too close, and remain standing in the correct areas.
  • Buckets of water, fire extinguishers and even fire engines (at larger public events) have been on standby on site.

I would also suggest you check with your firework insurers to see whether your policy covers you for any problems with the bonfire.

Bonfire safety advice

Whether it’s a back garden bonfire or something bigger, some general tips:

  • Try and turn over the bonfire before lighting in case any animals have taken residence; ideally build up your bonfire as close to the display date as possible to minimise this risk. With really big fires you should also check there’s no young children hiding inside (sadly, according to news reports, this has happened on a few occasions).
  • Don’t use flammable substances like petrol to get the fire going. Firelighters work well, as do portfires (pyrotechnic lighters).
  • Absolutely do not put spent fireworks on the bonfire afterwards as many contain one or two unexploded shells which can go off randomly in a fire.
  • Inform the local fire service if you’re having a bonfire at a public event. They’re also a great source of help and advice if you need it.
  • Try and keep bonfire materials to wood, old pallets, logs, branches and so on. Tyres, general rubbish, old sofas and the likes have a habit of turning up on big fires being built days in advance but can create awful smoke problems.