Bonfires and smoke nuisance

Advice on lighting a bonfire, as well as when a bonfire becomes a public nuisance

North Devon Council does not have bylaws prohibiting bonfires.

However, some bonfires may be a statutory nuisance, having an unreasonable effect on someone's enjoyment of their home or garden. In these cases, we may take enforcement action. We may also take action where a bonfire on trade premises causes dark smoke.

Where smoke has been allowed to drift across a road, the police may consider the matter as a road traffic hazard.

Taking action 

If a bonfire annoys you, the first thing to do is speak to the owner of the bonfire. The direct approach may be embarrassing, but if you can explain the problem it is causing, they may be more considerate in future.

To report a smoke nuisance to us please click the button below (you will need to log in or sign up to My Services to report).

Report a smoke nuisance to us

Where you believe a bonfire is a statutory nuisance, you should be prepared to produce a diary of events, including dates and times of the nuisance caused and its effect on you with the support of witnesses, if possible. This could help assist us investigate the matter and may be used as evidence if legal action is taken.

Where you decide to take your own legal action, you may wish to take advice from a local law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Bonfire tips

If you do plan to light a bonfire, please consider carefully the affect on your neighbours. There are a number of tips to avoid nuisance.

  • do ensure that only dry material is burnt, quickly and in small quantities so the minimum amount of smoke is created. An incinerator makes this much easier
  • do choose your bonfire site carefully, well away from trees, fences and windows. Beware of attempting bonfires on very windy days as it can easily get out of control. Have a hosepipe and buckets of water handy, just in case
  • do advise your nearest neighbours before you light a bonfire so they can be prepared for any minor inconvenience that may arise
  • do not burn damp grass clippings or 'green' material as this creates thick smoke
  • do not burn any oily rags, rubber, plastics, damp garden waste or other materials, which would inevitably create heavy smoke or toxic fumes. Never add household rubbish or use sump oil to set it alight
  • do not light a fire when weather conditions will cause problems. Smoke hangs in the air on damp, windless days and in the evening around sunset
  • do not light a bonfire when your neighbours have washing drying, or are out enjoying their gardens or have windows wide open
  • do not light bonfires one hour before dusk, or leave them burning overnight. Choose the time of day and weather conditions that will cause the least inconvenience to neighbours
  • do not leave your fire to smoulder for long periods. Never leave a fire unattended. Hose it down until cold before you leave it or smother it with soil
  • the ashes, when cold, can be raked into the soil as a useful fertiliser. Small pieces of charcoal can be included, but larger pieces should be picked out first