Lifestyle Guides

Garden fire and BBQ safety

If you’re tempted to light a bonfire, whether to celebrate 5 November or just to clear some garden waste, think twice and keep yourself and others safe


With Bonfire Night fast approaching and many places facing Coronavirus-related restrictions around gatherings, you might be tempted to build your own bonfire in your back garden.

But our Home Insurance team is urging people to think twice before doing this. Not only is a bonfire potentially dangerous for the person who’s lit it, but it can cause upset to neighbours having to breathe in the fumes. 

The fear is this year could be worse than ever with more people tempted to DIY their bonfire night party after the cancellation of local events, and finding their bonfire getting out of hand. 

Lisa Bryan, Prevention Manager with Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: 

“[Bonfires] can so easily spread out of control and can have devastating consequences to surrounding property, not to mention the risk to people. We would strongly urge people not to have bonfires at home.

“Bonfires have also prompted calls of concern to the Fire Service from members of the public who spot smoke coming from bonfires in their neighbourhoods.

“I also want to emphasise the importance of not burning household waste as this can produce toxic smoke and have health implications for those nearby.” 

Bonfire safety tips

If you do decide to light a bonfire in your garden to go with the kids’ sparklers, there are some precautions you should follow to keep yourself and those around you safe:

  • Check the bonfire is well built and sturdy
  • Only add dry material to the bonfire, to minimise the amount of smoke
  • Don’t add household rubbish to your bonfire
  • Make sure no small children or animals are hiding inside or nearby
  • Don’t use petrol or paraffin to light the fire
  • Make one person responsible for lighting the fire and make sure they wear suitable clothing made of low-flammable material such as wool
  • Make sure the person who’s in charge of the fire knows what to do if they burn themselves or their clothing catches fire 
  • Don’t leave the fire unattended
  • Make sure the fire is thoroughly extinguished before going inside by covering with soil or dousing with water - a smouldering fire could set alight again

Garden fire insurance claims rising 

Concerns over garden fires have already hit the headlines this year, during the height of the spring 2020 lockdown, when frustrated people resorted to burning their rubbish and garden cuttings that built up due to reduced waste collections. 

It was a particular issue in Edinburgh where bonfires were banned in a bid to keep the air clear for those who were self-isolating. The move by the City of Edinburgh Council came after garden waste collections were suspended, but similar issues were reported all around the country. 

Fire services across the UK experienced surges in the number of call outs to bonfires that got out of hand, while our Home Insurance team dealt with three times the number of garden fire claims compared to the same period in 2018.

David Fowkes, Head of Household Underwriting at Admiral, said: “We think [the rise in garden fire claims] was down to people burning their garden waste or rubbish because some council waste collections were disrupted and many tips across the UK closed. 

“It’s all too easy for the wrong items to end up on a bonfire which can cause plumes of acrid smoke or toxic chemicals being released and even explosions.

“The last thing anyone wants to do is put any unnecessary pressure on our emergency services, but unfortunately fires can and do get out of control. If you’re planning a bonfire, take extra care and think twice about your own safety and the safety of those around you.

“Hang on to your rubbish and garden waste until it can be disposed of properly and don’t be tempted to fly tip any waste either, as not only is this illegal, but can also be hazardous to other people and wildlife as well as putting extra pressure on resources which are already stretched.”

So what are the alternatives to burning your garden waste?


  1. Composting - If you have surplus garden waste and lots of salad cuttings and veg peelings, now’s the time to start composting. Rot or compost anything that's hanging around - it’s recycling in the best possible way; returning anything that came from the ground back into the ground. This beginners’ guide to composting from Good Housekeeping is a great place to start. Remember, only compost green waste and fruit/veg - cooked food and dairy products need to be kept out as it could attract rats. 
  2. Wormeries - Try using a worm composting bin to produce fertiliser and compost in no time. You can compost any cooked or uncooked food scraps - any plants or food you’re growing in your garden will certainly thank you for it. 
  3. Hot composting - If you want to add cooked food waste in with your garden waste, try a hot composting bin. They’re designed to heat up to a safe temperature for cooked foods to be included. 

If you’re interested in other ways to be more sustainable in your home we have a couple of great articles to help you get started:

BBQ and fire pit safety 

As well as bonfire concerns, there was also a surge in garden fires due to BBQs and fire pits as the Coronavirus lockdown drove those fortunate enough to have a garden to spend as much time in their outdoor space. Combined with unseasonably good weather, getting the BBQ out was a no-brainer.

But once we’re all full up with grilled goodness, leaving the BBQ and fire pit to gradually sizzle out isn’t a good idea - they need to be extinguished properly to avoid a fire. 

Admiral’s David Fowkes said: “We saw a spike in the number of fire claims related to barbecues, bonfires and the burning of garden waste over the spring lockdown.  

“We saw three times as many claims for fires caused by barbecues and bonfires compared with the same period in 2018 and 50% more than the same period last year.

“The good weather led to an increase in the number of barbecue related incidents - they weren’t controlled or extinguished properly, or were started too close to buildings or fences.”

fire pit

Here’s some easy safety advice for gas and charcoal barbecues from the Fire Service, ready for next time you have a BBQ in the garden.

  • Make sure your barbecue's in good working order and is positioned on a flat surface away from any shed, trees and bushes
  • Never leave it unattended
  • Keep a bucket of water or sand nearby for emergencies
  • Keep children and pets away from the area
  • Only move a BBQ once cool 

Charcoal barbecues

  • You only need to cover the base of the BBQ - about two inches deep
  • Use proper firelighters or start fuel on cold coal - do not use petrol
  • Never put hot ashes straight into the bin – they could melt the plastic and cause a fire

How to cool a charcoal barbecue

  1. Stop any air getting to the coals by popping the lid on closing the vents
  2. Gently spray water over the coals and ashes before popping the lid on and closing the vents - the water spray will speed up the cooling process
  3. Pour a bucket of water over the hot coals and stir to completely extinguish 

Gas barbecues

  • If you’re changing the gas cylinder, make sure the tap is turned off 
  • Change cylinders outdoors or in a well-ventilated area
  • If you suspect a leak in the cylinder or pipework, brush soapy water around the joints and look for bubbles – tighten to fix, but don’t over tighten
  • After cooking, turn off the gas cylinder before switching off the controls – this allows residual gas in the pipes to be used up

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