Fire is many things to different people: dangerous, useful, warming, destructive.

Of course all of them can be true, but humans wouldn't have survived in the British Isles without it. 

Remembering that we've gathered around outdoor fires for thousands of years puts me in a pensive mood whenever I light my own. 


Image embedded from the Times archive - Stone age man making fire.

Now we approach bonfire night, there are no doubt some bits of garden rubbish waiting to be burned. 

Fire is hypnotic and beautiful to people of all ages, and teaching youngsters about the dangers and pleasures of fire in a safe setting can ensure fun is had without any mishaps. 

Here are my top tips for a safe, fun bonfire:


  1. If you're lighting a pile of sticks that's been sitting there a while, check thoroughly for hedgehogs before lighting
  2. Check overhead, the column of heat that will rise of your fire can burn wires and branches so make sure there's nothing above you
  3. Pick a spot sheltered from gusts of wind and don't light your fire if it's windy, this can carry smoke and even hot embers to other places. You should also be well away from fences, trees and buildings. 
  4. Very young children and animals should stay inside or be closely supervised. 
  5. Keep a big bucket of water on hand. 
  6. Dress in non-flammable clothing (I know this sounds obvious but it's worth thinking about). 

Setting up 

  1. Clear the area of any rubbish. 
  2. Using a brazier is best, but a pit of sand or gravel is a good substitute.
  3. Alternatively if you do decide to have a fire on bare ground, dig a few inches deep and a few feet wider than you want your fire to be, this ensure's there's nothing for the fire to catch. 
  4. Make an unbroken ring of bricks or heavy rocks. 
  5. You should use totally dry wood (different types burn differently), especially to get things going, wet wood produces lots of fumes and is hard to light. Create a bed of solid bits of wood and put your kindling on top of that (small strips of dry wood with no bark, or even cotton wool with a bit of Vaseline on).
  6. Build a tepee shape over the kindling with a small gap through which to light it. Make sure some of the wood is close above your kindling pile so it has a chance to catch.   
  7. Put a match to the kindling. In the cold it might take a while for the fire to heat up, so add some more kindling to the small blaze if need be. 

Kicking back

  1. It's easy to get very involved when lighting a fire, but if you've built it well and you start with some dry wood, it should get going by itself.
  2. If you've got chairs, make sure you're sat upwind (smoke in the eyes is always a pain) and not too close, fires can spit. 
  3. Get the sticks and marshmallows out!

Why not go for the full experience and cook on your fire

Restrictions for fire lighting anywhere that's not your own land are complex, so stick to your garden or check with the land owner before going ahead. It's always good to heed the Coutryside code, leave no trace.