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Firework displays and bonfire safety

What can I do if I'm having problems with a bonfire or fire?

1.    Speak to your neighbour and let them know it’s causing problems: hopefully they will put it out.

2.    If you think the fire is genuinely dangerous, call the Fire Service using 999.

3.    If the smoke, ash or smell from fires are affecting you regularly at your property this may be a statutory nuisance.

Contact us to discuss matters further:

Report a smell related problem

Report smoke related problem

Telephone: 01539 733 333

Guide to safety for firework display organisers and operators

Firework safety code

  1. only buy fireworks marked BS 7114.
  2. don't drink alcohol if setting off fireworks.
  3. keep fireworks in a closed box or tin.
  4. follow the instruction on each firework.
  5. light them at arms length using a taper.
  6. stand well back.
  7. never go near a firework that has been lit. Even if it doesn't go off, it could still explode.
  8. never put fireworks in your pocket or throw them.
  9. always supervise children around fireworks.
  10. light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves.
  11. never give sparklers to children under the age of 5.
  12. keep all pets indoors.
  13. don't let noisy fireworks off after 11pm.

Selling adult fireworks to anyone under the age of 18 is banned, these include caps, cracker snaps and party poppers.

The public cannot buy:

  • bangers
  • mini rockets
  • fireworks that fly erratically (squibs, helicopters etc)
  • aerial shells
  • maroons
  • mortars
  • large powerful display fireworks

These regulations are enforced by Cumbria County Council consumer protection/trading standards officers.

Suppliers/shopkeepers in breach face a fine of up to £5,000 or six months prison.

You cannot sell fireworks louder than 120 decibels.

Fireworks cannot be let off between 11pm and 7am in England and Wales. There are extensions for the following festivities:

  • until 1am on the night of the Chinese New Year
  • until 1am on the night of Diwali
  • until 1am on New Year's Eve
  • until midnight on November 5

These regulations are enforced by the police and there is a penalty of up to £5000 or six months in prison for breach of curfew.

An abatement notice can be issued if noise from fireworks is causing a nuisance.  

Tips to help avoid firework frights are:

  • give neighbours a few days notice of your display, in particular elderly people and those with animals
  • use appropriate fireworks and try to avoid really noisy ones
  • make sure pets and other animals are safely away from fireworks
  • consider timing. Usually Friday or Saturday is preferable
  • avoid letting fireworks off in unsuitable weather, such as strong winds could be hazardous
  • let off your fireworks in an open garden area, noise 'bounces' off buildings and smoke pollution can build up
  • if a neighbour complains that you are disturbing their livestock or pets please be considerate
  • after your display, clear up firework 'fallout' and dispose of safely

Cumbria County Council's Trading Standards Department can also help.

They can be contacted on 01539 773 000.

Bonfire safety - Before the display 

It is important to plan well ahead and to involve the organisations listed below as early as possible.

  • the Fire Brigade
  • the Police
  • the local council (Food & Safety Group) 
  • an appropriate first aid organisation (to provide facilities for handling burns, injuries etc.)
  • the local media
  • the coastguard if a fire work display is to be held within 5 miles of the coast

In some locations it may be helpful to warn other people, farmers on nearby farms or occupiers of nearby residential, commercial or industrial premises; who may be affected.

One person should be placed in charge of the safety arrangements.These duties will include: 

  • ensuring that the bonfire is built safely
  • keeping the public at a safe distance
  • making sure that the bonfire is extinguished safely
  • making sure that there are suitable phones in place for emergency use and calling the emergency services, if necessary

The organisers of the event should also ensure that there is adequate insurance to cover personal injury and damage. Any traders on site should have their own insurance.

Stewards and stewarding

It is important to have enough stewards, and for them to be suitably trained by a competent person, to ensure the safety of the people attending.

There should be one steward to every 250 (or part of 250) people present, in addition more stewards may be needed to cover each entrance/exit and to carry out the duties listed below. The actual number should be agreed in advance with the police and the local council.

Duties of the stewards may include:

  • acting as car park attendants
  • providing information
  • monitoring the bonfire area
  • keeping spectators behind barriers
  • ensuring that nothing is thrown onto the bonfire and that it does not spread
  • managing the public (particularly if alcohol is allowed)
  • calling and liaising with the emergency services
  • collecting rubbish
  • clearing up after the bonfire
  • seeing that the bonfire is extinguished

Stewards should be over 18 years of age and readily identifiable, for example by wearing a fluorescent jacket. They should be constantly watching for problems in the crowd, such as disorderly behaviour or emergencies.

Stewards should know who is in charge of the event and have a means of contacting them, two-way radio at large events. They should know the location of phones for emergency use. They should stay until the event is over and ensure that the site is safe to be left.

Access to and Exit from the Site 

There should be a suitable entrance, or entrances, for emergency vehicles previously agreed with the emergency services and kept clear of obstruction until the event is over.

Emergency vehicles should be met by the person in charge of safety or a Senior Steward on arrival.

In enclosed areas, eg those with a fence, sufficient entrances and exits of adequate width, including emergency exits; should be provided to allow spectators to enter in an orderly manner and to leave easily at the end of the display. The needs of any spectators with disabilities should also be considered.

Artificial lighting

If there is no local lighting, lamps should be provided at all entrances and exits so that people can arrive and leave safely. The organiser should also provide each steward with a torch so that they can guide the crowd.

Warning signal

Organisers and stewards should have a pre-arranged coded signal to warn them that an emergency has developed and that help is required. The signal should be heard throughout the site but it should not cause panic amongst the spectators. At larger events a public address system may be used, and at smaller displays loud hailers could be used.

Fire fighting equipment

Fire fighting equipment must be provided so that if the bonfire suddenly flares up and causes concern it can be dampened down quickly. This could consist of some or all of the following, depending on the advice given by the Fire Brigade:

  • two nine litre water fire extinguishers
  • hose (if mains water supply is available)
  • buckets of water or sand
  • fire-beaters
  • a fire blanket  

If the stewards are going to use the equipment, they should receive suitable training before the event starts. The extinguishers may also be used for dealing with any small fires caused by flying brands and sparks.

The position of the bonfire 

It should be sited in a clear un-enclosed space at a safe distance, preferably not less than 18 metres; from buildings, trees, wooden fences, overhead cables, car parking areas or firework displays which have already been set up.

Fire Brigade

There should be no combustible materials nearby, such as stacks of timber, hay, straw etc. which can be set alight accidentally or by people behaving irresponsibly. The prevailing wind direction must be taken into account when deciding the position of the bonfire, it should not blow towards the spectators or combustible materials.

It should be built in an area that has been cleared of undergrowth and where any surrounding grass has been cut short. In dry weather, the site should also be dampened down. The top layer of turf should be removed and stored away from the bonfire so that it can be replaced when the site is cold. Any debris left over from preparing the site should also be placed well away from the bonfire. Bonfires should not be built on peat, as peat fires can spread underground and emerge some distance away. 

The Bonfire should be carefully guarded before the event so that it cannot be set alight deliberately and to prevent children or animals using it as a den or shelter. 

Bonfire construction

The bonfire should not contain any potentially hazardous materials which may explode or give off toxic fumes, such as:

  • aerosols
  • batteries
  • bottles
  • foam-filled furniture
  • tins of paint

Tyres should not be used as they produce large amounts of black smoke and can roll off the bonfire when alight. Also, materials producing light ash that could blow about, such as corrugated cardboard, should not be used.

The bonfire should be kept to a manageable size, the maximum height normally being six metres, preferably no more than three metres at semi-public events. It should be evenly built so that it collapses inwards as it burns. There should also be a suitable barrier around the bonfire, at a distance of not less than 1.5 times its height, to ensure that spectators are kept far enough away. 

Planning for bad weather

Organisers will need to make plans in case of bad weather, including what to do if the bonfire cannot go ahead. Rain can dampen down the bonfire and fill the area with smoke, and can also encourage the use of highly flammable liquids, such as petrol, which must be avoided. Strong winds can result in flying brands from the bonfire reaching greater distances, in which case the barriers around the bonfire may need to be moved further back.

At the display lighting the bonfire

The display should start and finish at the advertised times. The bonfire should not normally be lit before any firework display unless the firework display is sufficiently far away to ensure that stray sparks from the bonfire cannot fall into the firework area.

The bonfire should be supervised by a competent person, whose responsibilities will include checking before the bonfire is lit that its construction is still sound, that there are no children or animals inside, and that hazardous items such as aerosols, fireworks etc have not been thrown onto it. The bonfire should not be lit by children or left unattended, and nothing should be cooked on it. 

Flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel, methylated spirit or white spirit should never be poured onto the bonfire to light it or revive it. These liquids can cause a bonfire to flare up unexpectedly, or can cause an explosion from a build-up of their fumes, or the stream of liquid (if poured) can burn back to the person holding the container.

Damp bonfires should be lit by using dry kindling, eg newspaper, sacking, empty wooden boxes etc.

These materials should be placed inside the bonfire and will help it to burn from the inside out, drying out any damp materials stacked on the outside. Fuses can be made out of long, twisted rags soaked in used engine oil or paraffin. They should be trailed from the inside of the bonfire to a pre-determined lighting point outside. Alternatively, domestic fire lighters can be used.

Suitable clothing should be worn by anyone who has to go near the bonfire. For example, a substantial overcoat of wool or other of low flammability material, a hood (if provided), long trousers (worn over any boots) and gloves. Avoid wearing long scarves that could trail.

As the bonfire progresses, spectators should be able to move away freely from smoke, sparks and heat, if it becomes uncomfortable, without being trapped by the crowd.

Before lighting your bonfire please ensure that you check around for any small animal or pet's that could be hiding e.g. hedgehogs, kittens etc.

After the event

Extinguishing the bonfire

At the end of the event, the bonfire should be extinguished with water and it should not be left until the steward responsible and the person in charge of safety are certain that it is out.

Signing off

If any emergency organisations are present at the display (fire brigade, police, first aid etc), the organiser should "sign off" with them at the end of the event.

The Health and Safety Act Work 1974

Organisers of public or semi-public displays should be aware of the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which place a responsibility on them to ensure the safety of both employees and members of the public.

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Note: This page has been prepared in conjunction with Lancaster City Council