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9 Apr 2020

Coronavirus: councils tell residents to stop lighting fires to help people with respiratory conditions

Barbecues, bonfires and wood-burning stoves - should you use them?
Bonfire in a garden

With a sunny bank holiday weekend stretching out ahead, it might feel like the perfect time for a family barbecue, or clear-out into a back garden bonfire. But councils up and down the country are pleading for residents to think about their neighbours before lighting a fire.

Smoke from fires can make breathing difficulties 'critically worse', according to one fire service. Coronavirus is a respiratory disease, so there are concerns about breathing in extra smoke, especially when warmer weather means more homes will have their windows open.

Councils which have published information about lighting fires during the coronavirus pandemic include:

  • Brighton and Hove Council and Erewash Borough Council have both asked residents to think twice before lighting wood-burning stoves, open fires and bonfires.
  • Wirral Council and Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service have made a joint appeal to residents not to light bonfires or barbecues during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Bath and North Somerset Council and London's City Hall have asked residents not to burn waste.

Keep up to date with our latest coronavirus news and advice.

Coronavirus and pollution from barbecues and bonfires

Pollution from vehicles has reduced significantly over the past few weeks while people are driving and using public transport less.

However, some areas, including the London Borough of Bromley, have seen an increase in particulate matter. London councillors think this is owing to garden bonfires.

Wirral Council and Merseyside Fire & Rescue Services said that smoke from domestic bonfires can cause breathing difficulties to become 'criticially worse'.

COVID-19 can cause respiratory problems for people who contract it. Those who are managing symptoms at home and opening windows to allow in fresh air risk breathing in smoke from neighbouring properties having barbecues or bonfires.

Erewash Borough Council explained: 'Poor air quality could worsen breathing difficulties. With people having to stay at home, there's an increase in people lighting wood-burning stoves and garden bonfires.

'The increased smoke particles from things such as chimneys and wood-burning stoves impact directly on lung health and cardiac health - two of the most at-risk groups for COVID-19'.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: 'Pollution from wood-burning stoves and garden bonfires can be damaging to people's health, particularly if they have an underlying respiratory condition which may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.'

How to reduce pollution from your wood-burning stove

If you need to burn solid fuel to heat your home or water, choosing carefully what you burn and how you burn can make a big difference to the amount of pollution you produce.

  1. Don't burn wet logsThese produce far more particulates than dry logs. Moisture content should be 20% or lower - from February 2021, the sale of small batches of wood with a higher moisture moisture content will be banned.
  2. Look for the Woodsure Ready to Burn logo when buying wood. This is a government-backed scheme meaning that you're buying from a reputable manufacturer and moisture is below 20%.
  3. Avoid burning treated wood, such as from old furniture, as this could let off toxic chemicals.
  4. Leave the door ajar on your stove and open the air vents which you're getting the fire going. A good supply of air helps wood smoke less while it's burning.
  5. Ensure the flue stays at the correct temperature throughout your fire. This will help avoid carbon monoxide coming through your chimney. Do this by keeping the fire constant and building burning materials into a tepee shape to start the fire.
  6. Clean and maintain your stove regularly, and get your chimney swept. It needs to be done quarterly if you burn wood to avoid sooty deposits and obstructions building up.
  7. Check for cracks, distortions or other problems with your stove. Faults can mean harmful pollutants are escaping into your home.

Need a chimney sweep or expert to maintain your stove? Which? Trusted Traders have to pass our rigorous assessment process before being allowed to use the Which? logo.

If you're considering buying a wood-burning stove, look for an efficient one. Stoves which will meet new rules for efficiency (which will become law in 2022) are called Ecodesign Ready stoves. They will produce 80% fewer potentially harmful particles than those from 10 years ago.

Find out more about stoves and pollution in our dedicated guide, plus read our tips on maintaining your stove.

Garden with table and umbrella
Which? advice on coronavirus

Experts from across Which? have put together the advice you need to stay safe and make sure you're not left out of pocket.