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It’s the beginning of grilling season across the country, and for many that also means building a bonfire for friends and family to gather around on chilly nights.

But there are serious safety precautions to take note of and rules to abide by if you do plan on having a giant fire in your yard or in a public recreation area.

You may or may not be allowed to build a bonfire in your area, and specific regulations like what you can burn and where you can burn it can depend on where you live too. So, consult your city government Web site to ensure that you comply with the rules in your area.

Here are some of the basics you’ll need to know.


Certain towns that allow bonfires may have rules about where you can build them. For example, in Cottage Grove, Wisc. your bonfire can’t be any closer than 20 feet from any structure, fuel storage location or hay stack.

If you’re at a campground or any other recreation areas, bonfires can only be built in fire rings, stoves, grills or fireplaces provided for that purpose, according to


If you are allowed to build a bonfire in your area, there could be some materials that you’re not allowed to burn.

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For instance, in Mishawaka, Ind., where residents are required to get a permit before building a bonfire, construction lumber and wooden pallets aren’t allowed to be burned, the city says.

And in Cottage Grove, the bonfire permit application you’ll have to fill out requires you to promise you won’t burn things like garbage, oily things, rubber and asphalt. Dry, seasoned wood is probably your safest bet, according to Living the Country Life. You may even have to submit a permit application that lists what you’ll be burning, the address and the date.

If you want to be especially eco-friendly with your bonfire, in addition to refraining from adding plastics and rubber, try sticking to clean, dry garden waste like leaves that can break down easily and won’t release as many toxins in the air. Plus, if you build your bonfire within sight of a lighted area, you’re less likely to attract wild animals.


It’s up to you to make sure your fire is under control. Keeping them at 5 feet by 5 feet should ensure that it’s manageable, according to Living the Country Life. You should make sure the fire is being attended to at all times, and before you leave the area, make sure the fire is completely out. That can help prevent unintentional fires and protect the environment.

And make sure that kids and pets aren’t left alone at the bonfire. You may even want to keep pets indoors, suggests one retailer of eco-friendly gear.

Watching the Skies

Bonfires can be a fun tradition for families and friends, but they can sometimes get out of hand.

For instance, it has been a Texas A&M football tradition to build exceedingly large and tall bonfires soaked in diesel fuel. But in 1999, when 8,000 logs were used to build one massive bonfire, 12 students were killed in a collapse, notes the Getting at Patient Safety Center at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1965, the annual bonfire teetered at 110 feet, and bonfires toppled in 1954 and 1994, the GAPS center says. Eventually, a height limit was set to 55 feet.