With all of its history Britain can be a peculiar place to live at times. While America celebrates its victory for independence on 4th July with fireworks and hot dogs and the French remember their revolution on Bastille Day every 14th July, every 5th November we choose to mark a failed assassination and act of terrorism that happened over four hundred years ago. The Houses of Parliament were very nearly blown up so we set off fireworks instead. And despite the fact he was executed in 1606 for his failed plot, children still make effigies of Guy Fawkes which are burned on bonfires like some kind of pagan ritual (interesting fact: ‘bonfire’ originates from the fact this is how ‘bones’ were ‘burned’ to dispose of the dead.)
But despite its ugly (but let’s face it, fantastic) origins, according to a 2012 survey we spend £386 million celebrating Bonfire Night. Every 5th November the air is filled with the smell of gunpowder and cascades of fireworks light up the sky in every direction.
As all the emergency services will tell you the mix of fire, explosives and excited children has always been a busy night for A&E departments all over the country, so with that in mind here’s some advice on how to celebrate Bonfire Night while staying safe:
· When building a bonfire make sure it is in a safe location with no overhanging trees or nearby fences that could catch fire. Make sure it is stable and won’t collapse outwards, and never light a bonfire with petrol or other flammable liquids.
· Bonfires should only be for burning wood. Don’t throw anything else on the fire as it could explode or release toxic fumes
· Make sure everyone stays a safe distance away from the fire and that children are supervised.
· Don’t leave a bonfire to burn out on its own. Have plenty of water at hand to douse the embers at the end of the party
· Have respect for your neighbours when setting off fireworks. Remember that it is illegal to set them off between 11pm and 7am
· Only buy fireworks from authorised and reputable retailors and make sure the box has the British Kite Mark Standard. You don’t want to be buying what is in effect a bomb from the back of a van!
· Keep your fireworks in their box – or ideally in a closed metal container – and only take one out at a time.
· Make sure children can’t get to the fireworks. It might also be a good idea to get ear protection for younger children
· Always follow the instructions provided with your fireworks and only light them with the long taper provided. Using a match or lighter puts you dangerously close to the lit firework
· Never return to a firework if it doesn’t go off as you would expect – it could still explode. Leave it until the morning after
· Sparklers burn at a temperature not too far from that of a welding torch. Don’t give them to children under 5, and make sure everybody who is holding sparklers wears gloves and holds them at arm’s length. Even when they go out sparklers stay hot so but them in a bucket of water afterwards.
· Keep your pets indoors on Bonfire Night. Fireworks can be extremely distressing for animals so keep the curtains drawn and try playing music or turning the volume up on the TV to dampen the sounds as much as possible.
· If you have any pet clothes or old children’s shirts try putting them on your dog. The tight and restrictive material around their body is supposed to be comforting – or at the very least distracting.
· If your pets take to hiding behind furniture leave them there. Trying to get them out could distress them even more.
· Do a sweep of your garden for spent fireworks the morning after before letting your pets out. You don’t want them coming into contact with the chemicals inside.
Ultimately the safest (and sometimes cheapest) way to celebrate Bonfire Night is to find a public display nearby. You can enjoy a huge bonfire without building or tending to it better fireworks than those you would have bought in the supermarket, and there’s no clean up after. Whatever you do this 5th November remember to stay safe, not take unnecessary risks and most importantly enjoy yourselves.