Every year we have a bonfire party which is well-attended by family and friends. We provide lashings of food and drink (no alcohol), there's shelter with seating and background music, all we ask in return is that folk bring a few fireworks, behave safely and sensibly, and have themselves a good time. It's our only chance to entertain such large groups of people - it's a "big garden, small house" thing.
Of course, the focal point is the bonfire itself. In years past we've had substantial piles of wood to burn, mainly due to the bits that either fall from or are pruned from our large Salix babylonica. Neighbours also contribute their unwanted bits of wood, so there's usually a sufficient supply of fuel to keep the fire blazing for a few hours.
This year, it's a bit different. The party format's the same, but the bonfire could be a biggy. The reason for this is simple - we've had the tree reduced considerably (cheers, Mick, I owe you one), quite a few main branches have been lopped and all of the dead wood has been removed. Consequently, the pyre is now 12ft in diameter and 15 ft high, with another two huge piles of wood and sticks waiting in the wings for their chance to be returned to the atmosphere from whence they came. This is what the scene looks like at the moment:
Now safety is paramount - the danger area is fenced off, there are always at least three adults on duty looking after the kids, another one dispensing fireworks from a safe steel box, and two others letting them off at a safe distance. We take all reasonable precautions to minimise the risks of damage to property and injury to people, and we're as prepared as possible should any accidents happen, but we were concerned about the size and siting of the bonfire so I decided to ask for the opinion of the experts. I called the County Fire and Rescue Service. The conversation was interesting, it went something like this:
Hello, this is the Fire and Rescue Service. Can I help you?
Hello. I'd like to talk to somebody about bonfires at domestic fireworks parties, please.
I can probably help you with that, what do you want to know?
Oh, just the basic things, such as: are there any size restrictions, and are there any recommended minimum distances from outbuildings, sheds, fences, trees, hedges, boundaries and the like. We're a bit concerned that the fire that we're building might be too big.
Ah. I'll just put you through to a colleague who may be able to help.
Through I went...
Hello, I understand that you want advice about bonfires.
Yes, please. Size, positioning etc.
We don't have any guidelines for domestic bonfires. We do publish documents about firework safety, but they don't cover bonfires.
OK. I'd probably have to get somebody to come have a look then. Please could you let me have the phone number for our local Fire Safety or Fire Prevention Officer? We're only five minutes from the local fire station, hopefully the Officer can nip over here at a time to suit himself and have a quick look, it won't take more than a quarter of an hour. I'll even put the kettle on for him.
No, he won't. They don't provide a service for domestic premises.
They won't come to your home.
But this is fire prevention and safety. Part of the job remit, I would have thought.
(awkward silence at the other end)
But they will come around when the shed's on fire, or when the neighbour's house is alight, won't they?
But then it'll be too late. I'm trying to prevent that.
(awkward pause at the other end)
Sorry. Is there anything else that I can help with?
Anything else? You can't exactly help with this matter, let alone anything else. Goodbye.