Nothing says fun and camaraderie like a blazing bonfire! Bonfire, originally “banefyre”, means “bone-fire”. What purpose they originally served varies from funeral pyre (literally meaning “burning of bones”), to pagan rituals of celebration (e.g. All Hallows Eve). Whatever the origin, in modern society, bonfires are used as the focal point to kick up your heels and rally for the home team!
In the early 20th century, bonfires in the U.S. were the rally point for celebration. In New England, it was traditional to have a town bonfire the night before the 4th of July. The bonfire served as the “fireworks” to usher in the American holiday. On Gallows Hill in Salem Massachusetts, townspeople would set the bonfire aflame with the rally cry “the night has turned into morning of a new year of liberty”.
However, the traditional bonfire often turned destructive. Teenagers set multiple unattended fires about town in celebration that would ignite house fires. This is why large, publicly supervised bonfires became a safety necessity. Townspeople would work together to constructed huge towers out of wooden casks, barrels and hogsheads, keeping the fire going long into the night.
Modern bonfires are still burning strong. Towns and/or schools often have huge bonfires to gather together for the big game or kick off a new season no matter the sport. However, you don’t need to construct a 100 foot high tower to show support. Homeowners can have their own bonfires, safely, right in the backyard.
Larger backyard bonfires are often built with wooden pallets, or other wooden materials set aside for disposal. Be careful, not all material is suitable for burning. Make sure the wood thrown on the flame does not have toxic materials like plastics and/or paints. You certainly don’t want to expose your family and guests to harmful airborne materials.
Be sure to use flammable materials only. During bonfire celebrations, people tend to give into their inner pyromaniac and throw any old thing into the fire to watch it burn. Don’t. Some items can burst or blow up sending shards into the crowd. Best rule of thumb is to use firewood for a backyard bonfire. This will help you keep in compliance of local open burning laws and keep guests safe.
Below are tips to ensure the bonfire celebration is safe.
- Don’t burn when it is windy or extremely dry
- Keep a vertical clearance 3x the height of the burning material (away from buildings, branches, power lines etc.)
- Make sure there is 10 ft of clearance around the entire burning site
- Never leave the fire unattended or to “burn out” on it’s own
- Extinguish completely with water
- Check the burn area over the next few days to ensure the fire is completely out
Follow these fire safety guidelines and sit back and enjoy your time rallying around the bonfire!
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