Smoke and fires

Garden bonfires

Every year complaints about bonfires causing a smoke and smell nuisance are investigated by environmental health staff. This leaflet explains the law and provides suggestions to help prevent a nuisance.

What is wrong with a bonfire?

Bonfires can cause problems for your neighbours in the following ways:

  • smoke and smell can be unpleasant and affect the enjoyment of their homes and gardens. It can alter behaviour such as closing windows or drying washing indoors. One off occasions will usually not cause problems but having bonfires frequently can cause a nuisance or be prejudicial to health
  • bonfires release gases including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particulates which are harmful to people and the atmosphere and can become ingrained in clothing and furnishings
  • smoke can aggravate breathing for asthma, bronchitis sufferers and young children; or cause problems for individuals with heart conditions
  • plastics or rubber give off a cocktail of pollutants some of which may be toxic - even if the imminent health risk is slight the bonfire will add to general air pollution levels

What’s the alternative?

  • Hambleton have alternate weekly collections for garden waste with most households provided with a bin to take grass cuttings, hedge clippings, small branches, bark, windfalls, plants and weeds for recycling
  • Some household waste - newspapers, magazines and plastic bottles - can be recycled through the kerbside box and bag recycling schemes
  • Collection of bulky refuse direct from a property can also be pre-arranged - there is a charge for this service
  • There are numerous household waste recycling centres across the district where textiles or non recyclable items can be taken. These sites - managed by North Yorkshire County Council can be found at:
    • Yafforth Road, Northallerton
    • Ellerbeck Court, Stokesley
    • Tutin Road, Leeming Bar Industrial Estate
    • Oxmoor, Plantation Lane, Sowerby
    • Tholthorpe, Flawith Lane

Find your local household waste recycling centre here:

Do ✅

  • only burn dry material
  • advise your nearest neighbours before you light a bonfire
  • burn material quickly in small quantities so the minimum amount of smoke is created - an incinerator makes this much easier
  • choose your bonfire site carefully, well away from trees, fences and windows. Beware of attempting to light bonfires on very windy days and have a hose pipe or buckets of water handy
  • choose the time of day and weather conditions that will cause the least inconvenience to neighbours and try to avoid bank holidays and weekends

Don't ❌

  • burn damp grass clippings or ‘green’ material as this creates thick smoke
  • burn oily rags, rubber, and plastics which create heavy smoke or toxic fumes
  • light a bonfire when your neighbours are drying washing, are out enjoying their gardens or have windows wide open
  • light bonfires one hour before dusk, or leave them burning overnight as smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening
  • leave your fire to smoulder for long periods and never leave a fire unattended - douse it with water if necessary

What does the law say?

There is common misconception that there are specific by-laws that prohibit garden bonfires or specify times they can be lit. This is not the case - it is not illegal to have a bonfire. In the following circumstances the local authority may take legal action.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990

Places a duty on local authorities to investigate complaints of a statutory nuisance which includes “smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.” This can be applied to both domestic and commercial premises.

In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a reoccurring problem, or interfering substantially with someone’s well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property. If the council is satisfied a nuisance exists an abatement notice can be served prohibiting future nuisance for which fines of up to £5,000 or £20,000 for business can be imposed. The act also allows the public to take private action in the magistrates court.

Highways Act 1980

Anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. Please contact the police if this is the case.

How to complain

If bothered by smoke, first approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing and it will hopefully make them more considerate in the future.

If this fails contact the District Council’s Environmental Health team on 01609 767138 who will take details of your complaint and make sure you get correct advice for the type of problem reported. Depending on the nature of the complaint an officer may decide to visit; try and contact your neighbour by phone or send a letter advising of the complaint and providing information on the law. Your details will be kept confidential but if your complaint is a recurring problem you may be asked to keep a diary of events to assist officers investigating the matter.

More information

There are no laws against having a bonfire, but there are laws for nuisance they can cause. 

You can download this information in an advice leaflet:

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