The bonfire: There is no more contentious subject than the garden fire. In its favour there is the fact that you can reduce enormous piles of combustible refuse into a manageable heap of pleasant-to-handle ashes, which are themselves a beneficial soil additive, providing potash and improving texture. It is also a hygienic way of disposing of pest-and disease-infested material.
Against setting light to garden refuse is the argument that bonfire smoke pollutes the atmosphere, adds to the ‘greenhouse effect’ and produces a certain amount of substances known to cause cancer. Smoke from fires will nearly always be a nuisance to someone, dirtying washing, forcing people to close windows, staining paintwork. Bonfires can be a traffic hazard if the wind turns and blows the smoke across a nearby road. The site of the fire, if it has been very hot, and burned for some time, can become sterile for a while afterwards, though this is not a major issue, as the existing soil can be replaced or combined with some from surrounding areas.
Before lighting a bonfire, you should consider whether there is a less anti-social method of refuse disposal. If you are new to an area, and especially if you have not noticed anyone else burning rubbish, check with your local council to see if there are any regulations or by-laws about garden fires or smoke emission in general. If not, and you decide to go ahead, light the fire on a still day and well away from houses and roads. Check the weather forecast for ‘freakish’ changes in wind. If smoke blows over a road, you will be breaking the law, and could be in serious trouble with the police.
When it is cold, bag the ash up in waterproof sacks until it is required, as the potash is easily washed out if the ash is left open to the elements.
It must be stressed that this method should only be used where it can cause no offence to others and all other ways of rubbish disposal are impossible.
Dos and Don’ts of Bonfires
DO NOT use paraffin. It makes the fire burn wet and a lot of water vapour is given off which is just what you do not need. It is very rarely you can get a really hot fire by starting it with paraffin.
DO NOT use petrol or any other form of volatile fuel. It flares up with horrific intensity, including the vapour surrounding the spilt fuel which can burn fiercely right back to the container it was stored in and cause a serious explosion. If you are still holding the can at the time, it is unlikely you will be able to make another bonfire for a long time, if ever.
DO NOT start the fire off with any substance other than paper, cardboard or wood. To burn any material which emits black smoke (e.g. polythene or old tyres) is illegal.
DO NOT burn rubbish under adverse weather conditions — high winds, periods of drought, and fog.
DO make sure that you supervise the fire at all times and ensure any sparks falling in the vicinity are dealt with immediately
DO keep children and animals well away from the burning area.
DO make sure hot ashes are dowsed with water before you finally leave them, especially in summer.
ALWAYS dig a substantial firebreak into bare earth around the perimeter of the fire.