Lifestyle & Seasonal

Bonfire leaf-burning things to know

One of the best aromas of the fall season is an outdoor fire. The smell of burning leaves is so distinct and memorable, some people report sensing it in the crisp fall air even when no leaves or fires are burning nearby. As November comes to a close, now is the time for bonfires. Here are some common and not-so-common things to know about leaf burning.

Know the bylaws

Your municipality may have regulations on open fires and specifically leaf burning. Bylaws and bans change without much notice. Some townships require permits to burn leaves.  It’s best to re-check the municipality’s rules before lighting up your autumn night with a bonfire.

Burn dry leaves

Wet leaves produce a lot more smoke than dry leaves when set alight. While wet leaves can be as dangerous a slipping and car-sliding danger as ice can be, it’s best to wait for them to dry up a bit before burning. A keen eye must be kept on the fire at all times, and too much smoke will hinder visibility and your ability to stay in the area.

Consider a barrel or a cage

If you’re burning leaves, containing the embers is important for safety. A bonfire can be made in a burning barrel, a 55-gallon steel drum with air vent holes drilled along the bottom. A barrel can hold a lot of leaves, but don’t overfill it. Too many leaves at once will deprive the fire of oxygen and it will quickly die out. Fire pit kits aren’t intended for or safe for burning leaves. Shallow bowls aren’t sufficient for containing the embers, and deeper fire pits tend to get overloaded with leaves which runs the risk of damaging the end caps of the structure.

Gather up your safety tools


Keep household fire-fighting equipment at the ready. You’ll need buckets full of water, hoses, rakes and shovels. Bring out the extinguishers and leave them near the back door of the house. (Return them to their indoor spots when the bonfire is done.) Also: extinguish completely any burning embers at the end of the fire. Leaves emit carbon monoxide when they burn and the embers can emit even more of the deadly gas. Any outdoor fire should never be left unattended by an adult. If you’re going inside, douse the fire first.

Use paper to start the fire

Fuel like kerosene or gasoline should never be used to start a fire. Ignitable liquids are dangerous and can cause serious injury or harm.

Calm nights are best

Fires tend to get out of control quickly due to an unexpected burst of wind. The fire can spread in seconds. Always keep water and fire extinguishers within reach. Perfect bonfire weather is a calm, cool night. Skip it if wind or storm is predicted.

Test and change your indoor smoke detector batteries

Fire safety is the priority. Leaves turn into floating embers when lit. Alarms need to sound loudly and clearly if any of those embers and excessive smoke finds their way into the home. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms before you start your bonfire.

Cozy up

Burning fall leaves warms our hearts with sights, sounds and smells of autumn. If physical warmth is your goal, burn wood or go inside. The quick burn-time and floating embers of leaf fires mean you must keep a safe distance from these particular flames. Bring your wool blankets out to the patio and cozy up with family and friends to watch the season burn bright.

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