You are here:

Bonfires and dark smoke

Smoke from a bonfire

A bonfire is a traditional method of disposing of waste, but please read our leaflet on Bonfires and Dark Smoke as seemingly harmless waste can produce toxic fumes particularly if the bonfire is damp and does not burn at sufficiently high temperatures.

The fumes and gases produced can have damaging health effects, but because exposure to bonfire smoke is short-lived, serious harm is unlikely. Nevertheless, problems may arise for people such as those with breathing related illnesses and children (who are particularly vulnerable to air pollutants).

There are legal controls on smoke from a bonfire. A statutory nuisance is generally considered to be an act that is persistent or likely to recur, is a cause of material harm, or interferes substantially with the well-being, comfort or enjoyment of a neighbour. Causing a statutory smoke nuisance will result in the service of a legal notice. Failure to comply with the notice can result in prosecution. Smoke can also obscure on the roads. Under Section 1 of the Highways (Amendment) Act 1986 anyone lighting a fire may be guilty of an offence if road users' visibility is seriously affected.

With all bonfires there is the potential risk of igniting surrounding foliage, nearby crops or even adjacent outbuildings and properties. However, in hot and dry conditions this risk is significantly greater and we urge people to avoid having bonfires at all in such conditions.

If you must have a bonfire, remember to warn your neighbours, and take the following into account:

  • To limit smoke, burn only dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish or rubber tyres, or use oil to light the fire
  • Never light a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the early evening
  • Never burn when the wind will carry the smoke over roads or other people's property
  • Avoid burning at weekends and on Bank Holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary.

Additionally Part I of the Clean Air Act 1993 prohibits dark smoke emissions from domestic and industrial chimneys. It also prohibits dark smoke from non-chimney sources on industrial or trade premises, for example open bonfires.

The Law Relating to Statutory Nuisance