Keep the old chesterfield out of the pile this Bonfire Night

The historical context may be lost in the modern era, but the Guy Fawkes Night tradition lives on, as communities across the province get ready to set bonfires ablaze.

"It's just like mummering," says Matthew McCarthy, economic development officer with the Town of Harbour Grace.

"It's one of those things that's passed down, I guess, in rural Newfoundland from generation to generation, and it's a good way to bring the community together."

Guy Fawkes Night has been marked annually on Nov. 5 for more than 400 years. It's the anniversary of a conspiracy known as the Gunpowder Plot, a failed assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes, who aimed to blow up London's House of Lords and kill King James I in 1605.

Fawkes was arrested Nov. 5. He was convicted of high treason, and executed.

All the synthetic foams and rubbers, [burning] a couch today is like burning diesel fuel. - Craig Harnum

These days, Bonfire Night is more of a modern community get-together with snacks, games and, of course, a bonfire.

But with the modern reimagining of tradition comes the risk of burning modern materials, warns Craig Harnum, Corner Brook deputy fire chief.

"The biggest issue we've been having in the last couple of years is people really don't realize what they're burning and you volatile it actually is," Harnum said.

"People use bonfire night as an excuse now to get rid of stuff they don't need anymore, and what they don't realize is, a lot of this stuff is not very friendly material to burn."

Materials like vinyl siding and other synthetic materials should not be tossed in the flames, Harnum said.

"Old chesterfields, old couches, old chairs makes for a great fire, but it makes for a very dangerous fire."

Construction materials and newer furniture, for example, Harnum said, should be disposed of at a landfill, not in a fire.

"All the synthetic foams and rubbers, [burning] a couch today is like burning diesel fuel," Harnum said.

"If you light a couch on fire in your back garden tonight just to get rid of it then you're gonna be in for some ugly smoke, some bad odour, and a visit from the fire department, so it's entirely up to yourself."

In Corner Brook, anyone who wants to have their own backyard fire first needs to get a permit from the city, Harnum said.

No tires in the fires

And residents should keep in mind there's a lot of materials they can't toss on the fire — like old tires.

"It's a hundred per cent illegal and yes, one time it was a thing to do — I did it — gathered up in June, July and August, who could have the most tires on a fire, but we're educated now. It's definitely not acceptable in Corner Brook, or anywhere else," he said.

"Big fires start small. Light your fire in a manageable area, just use some kindling like you normally would … because these things get big and hot fast."

Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's/Facebook

While many communities organize free events and large fires for residents to attend, some still prefer to host their own fires.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay fire Chief Brad Butler said that's OK, but there are some important safety points to keep in mind.

"If you're going to have a fire in your backyard, I still suggest the fire pit with the screen cover on it," he said.

"Make sure it's about five metres away from your house, your garage, your fence, whatever be the case. Have a water supply on hand and make sure it's supervised at all times."

And never — ever — use an accelerant to start the fire, he said.

"You pour gasoline on that fire, it could come up in your face when you throw that match on or bend down to use the lighter," Butler said.

"You're allowed to have a fire in your backyard, as long as you do follow the proper guidelines."

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