Bonfires and smoke

raging bonfire against grey sky and silhouette of trees

In built up areas it is almost impossible to prevent smoke form a bonfire drifting across other people's gardens or homes and causng a nuisance. However, there is no offence for simply lighting a bonfire on domestic premises (Bonfire night may be a little difficult if there was such a law!), and contrary to common perceptions, there is no law which states a restriction on the hours that a bonfire may be lit.

The law does not define precisely what is or is not a nuisance, but in terms of smoke from a bonfire, the following would help us in deciding whether the person was causing a statutory nuisance:

  • how often a particular neighbour lights a bonfire
  • whether or not the smoke is drifting into neighbouring properties or gardens
  • the time of day or night it occurs
  • the nature of the area, for example is it heavily built up or rural and sparsely populated
  • the weather at the time of the fire, for example are neighbours trying to enjoy their gardens on a sunny day? Is washing hanging out? Is the wind direction suitable?
  • the type of smoke. Dark smoke from burning items such as tyres, plastics or roof felt will almost inevitably amount to a nuisance because it contains chemicals that are harmful to health and have a very acrid odour. However wood smoke alone can often cause nuisance.

If you are worried about the safety of a neighbour's fire, for example that it might be about to set fire to a fence or hedge, or that it is too close to your house, then you should contact the Fire Authority for advice (general information via Headquarters on 01453 753333). Only dial 999 in an emergency, that is to say if you believe that there is an immediate threat to life or property.

What to do if you are bothered by a neighbour's bonfire

First of all tell them about it. In many cases one neighbour does not know that they are causing problems for another. Often they are too intent on keeping the fire going to notice the effect it is having!

If you are really annoyed, then calm down before approaching your neighbour or writing them a letter. You will be much better able to explain your grievance in a reasonable way and therefore much more likely to get a positive response. If this doesn't work, then contact us and we will try to help using our powers under the Environmental Protection Act.

We will ask you to keep a diary which will record dates and times of your neighbour's fires and how they are affecting you. This is crucial information as it allows us to establish if the circumstances are serious enough to be considered a statutory nuisance. Once the diary sheet has been returned for us to assess, if further action can be taken we will write to you and your neighbour and try to arrange a visit when the problem is occuring for us to determine whether a statutory nuisance exists or is likely to occur or recur.

If we have evidence that the smoke is a statutory nuisance then an abatement notice will be served on the person causing the nuisance. If the nuisance continues then we can prosecute the alleged offender who may be fined up to £5,000 upon conviction for a domestic premises and up to £20,000 for commercial premises.

For further information about bonfires, please contact us on 01242 264135 or by email.