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Garden Bonfire advice

Published on 28 March 2019

Garden Bonfire advice

If you’re doing a spring clean and are considering setting off a garden bonfire, consider the impact this will have on your neighbours and the environment.

Carlisle City Council’s Environmental Health and Housing team is asking householders to follow some top tips.

In some circumstances, an occasional bonfire can be an appropriate way to dispose of garden waste. If you have considered all other methods of disposal and have decided that having a bonfire is the best way to get rid of your waste, then the first thing you should do is inform your neighbours.

A bonfire could cause a statutory nuisance to your neighbours, especially if smoke is allowed to drift across nearby properties. If you are found to be breaking the law, you could receive a fine in court.

Smoke from burning garden waste is likely to increase local air pollution levels. It may contain harmful pollutants including particles and dioxins, which have damaging health effects. You should never burn household rubbish, rubber, tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint. 

Carlisle City Council spokesperson said:

“At this time of year, we see an increase in the number of smoke related nuisance complaints associated with garden bonfires. We would like to take this opportunity to remind our householders to be responsible and not cause a nuisance to their neighbours’ and to consider the material that they burn is dry garden waste. Bonfires are not the best disposal method for rubbish, so consider alternatives, such as composting and recycling.”

If you follow these guidelines and the chances are you won't cause a serious nuisance.

  • Do not have a fire if the wind is variable or if it is blowing directly towards neighbouring properties.
  • Only burn clean, dry vegetation. Damp or green material will create lots of smoke that could drift onto your neighbour’s property or the highway.
  • Never burn household rubbish. You should never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire, you could cause harm to yourself and to the environment.
  • Furniture should not be burned as it is likely to emit significant dark smoke and toxic pollutants, and it should be taken to a civic amenity site or contact 01228 817200 to arrange collection for a small charge. Local charities may arrange to collect such items if they are donated. This also applies to household appliances (fridges, cookers and washing machines).
  • Never use old engine oil, methylated spirits or petrol to light a fire or to keep it going.
  • Avoid lighting a fire during unsuitable weather conditions. Smoke can hang in the air on damp, still days. If it is windy, smoke can blow into your neighbour’s property or across a road. Check the weather before you light and keep monitoring any change in the wind/smoke direction.
  • Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their homes and gardens.
  • Avoid burning when air pollution levels are high or very high in your area. You can check the air quality by calling 0800 556677 or at

If you have a problem with a bonfire, here’s some advice:

Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary and make sure it is out and will not continue to smoke once you have left it.

If you are affected by a problem of bonfire smoke, you may consider one of the following options:

  1. It is best to approach your neighbour first and explain the problem. You might find this awkward, but they may not be aware of the problem and it may make them more considerate when planning and lighting a bonfire.
  2. If this approach fails, contact our Environmental Health and Housing team on 01228 817200 or email [email protected] They will endeavour to investigate all complaints of nuisance in their area, which includes bonfire smoke.
  3. Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows you to take private action through the magistrate’s court, but you may want to see legal advice before doing so. Our Environmental Health and Housing should be able to advise you about private remedies for resolving your complaint to help you decide the best way forward.
  4. Under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. If this is the case, you should contact the Police.
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