Bonfires and smoke
We have powers to deal with smoke nuisance from any bonfire and to prosecute for dark smoke offences on commercial and industrial premises.
Can I have a bonfire?
For domestic properties, there are no laws that prohibit having a bonfire. However, a bonfire can be a statutory nuisance. Law does not specify when burning may or may not take place.
Smoke from bonfires can damage people's health, particularly children, the elderly and those with asthma and other breathing problems.
Bonfires pollute the environment and worsen air quality. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates noxious fumes, which give off poisonous chemicals.
Smoke prevents neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows, or hanging washing out. They can also reduce visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. If the smoke from your bonfire causes a nuisance to someone, they can make a complaint to us.
Anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine from the Police if it endangers traffic.
It is illegal to burn waste that is not from your property, for example, from your workplace, or from a neighbour.
What is the alternative to burning?
Before having a bonfire, consider alternative methods of waste disposal.
Household waste recycling centres will recycle and dispose of all types of waste.
Composting will provide a useful soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products. You can shred woody waste to make it suitable for composting or mulching. You can hire or buy a shredder.
Read more about composting and compost bins, including the home composting scheme for Cumbria, which is offers two types of subsidised compost bins.
Many items of household waste can be reused or recycled and can be taken to your local recycling centre.
Your nearest recycling centre will take aluminium foil, cans, card, glass, paper, plastics and textiles to recycle.
Household waste recycling centres will take of all types of waste to recycle.
When does a bonfire become a statutory nuisance?
We consider the following when assessing whether a bonfire is a statutory nuisance:
- How much smoke there is. Does it affect nearby properties?
- What you burn. The type of material burnt affects the production of smoke and how noxious the fumes from the smoke are.
- How often do the bonfires occur?
Read 'what is a statutory nuisance?' To find out when an activity is a nuisance and is posing a threat to health.
Report a bonfire problem
Report a problem with bonfires online to pollution control if they regularly causing problems.
Contact Environmental Protection Team on the details below if you would like to speak to someone.
Guidance for community bonfires and fireworks
The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued a short guide for organisers covering planning, safety and clearing up after the event.
Read celebrating with bonfires and fireworks on GOV.UK.
Guidelines to prevent smoke nuisance
- Before having a bonfire, let your neighbours know. This gives them an opportunity to shut their windows and bring any washing indoors.
- Avoid having a bonfire when the wind is blowing onto neighbouring properties.
- Avoid burning when the air is still and damp in the air, or in the evenings when smoke tends to hangs on the air.
- Never use petrol, methylated spirits, or similar to light the fire.
- Ensure you do not burn plastics, painted materials, plywood and chipboard, as they give off poisonous chemicals, some of which can cause cancer.
- Only burn dry material.
- Never leave the fire unattended, or leave it to smoulder, put it out!
Dark smoke offences
If a bonfire held on commercial or industrial premises gives rise to dark smoke, an offence is committed. We can commence legal action and take to court the occupier of the land and the person who permitted the smoke. To take a prosecution for dark smoke, we will confirm that the smoke met the legal definition of dark smoke. This requires observations of the smoke and burnt material by a trained officer. Dark smoke offences do not apply to domestic premises, except where you burn trade or industrial waste on domestic premises.