Bonfires and firework displays
Safety advice for organisers of bonfire
displays - public or semi-public events
This advice has been prepared mainly to help organisers of
public or semi-public bonfire displays to hold a safe event.
'Semi-public' could for example be the garden of a public house.
Also much of the guidance will be useful to organisers of smaller
Before the display
It is important to plan well ahead and to involve the
organisations listed below as early as possible. One way of doing
this is to set up an organising committee where each member has
responsibility for a particular task. One person should be placed
in charge of the safety arrangements. If possible, at least one
member of the committee should have previous experience of
organising a bonfire display. Each member should have a clear
understanding of their duties.
These duties 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
- there is a suitable Fire Risk Assessment
In some places 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.
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.
Organisers should consider carefully what they will need the
stewards to do.
Duties 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 present)
- calling and liaising with the emergency services
- collecting rubbish
- clearing up after the bonfire
- making sure that the bonfire is extinguished
Stewards should be more than 18 years old 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. A Steward should know who is
in charge of the event and should have a means of contacting them -
a 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 make sure 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
In enclosed areas, e.g. those with a fence, enough 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.
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.
Position of the bonfire
It should be sited in a clear unenclosed 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. Where there is
less space available the organiser is advised to consult the fire
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
It should be built in an area which 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.
The bonfire should not contain any potentially hazardous
materials which may explode or give off toxic fumes, such as:
- 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 which 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 make sure that spectators are kept far enough
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.
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 make sure
that stray sparks from the bonfire cannot fall into the firework
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
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, e.g.
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 firelighters 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 which
If the bonfire becomes uncomfortable as it progresses,
spectators should be able to move away freely from smoke, sparks
and heat, without being trapped by the crowd.
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 is certain that it is out.
If any emergency organisations are present at the display (fire
service, police, first aid etc), the organiser should "sign off"
with them at the end of the event.
The Health and Safety At Work Etc. Act 1974 and Regulatory
Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Organisers of public or semi-public displays should be aware of
the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which place a
responsibility on them to ensure the safety of both employees and
members of the public.
For further guidance, please
refer to the Fire Safety Guide for Open Air Events and Venues
or contact your local Fire Safety