The agency has issued a warning saying it will not tolerate people putting short term fun before long term protection of the environment and is urging people not to build there fires too far in advance in case they attract fly tippers looking for a simple solution to their waste worries.

Every year toxic materials find their way into the November 5th bonfires that burn up and down the country.

These will include tyres, plastics, painted wood, mattresses and other items that will release fumes that not only pose a threat to the environment but which can present a real risk to the health of those coming to enjoy the spectacle.

Organisers of public fireworks displays need to make sure any bonfire material they use is safe, non-toxic and comes from a known source, says the agency, and their bonfire is not a free disposal site for other people’s waste.

Barbara Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency said:

“We don’t want to stop people from enjoying bonfire night, but we do want to make sure all bonfires are legitimate and have as little impact on air quality and the environment as possible.

“Our officers will hot be on the heels of anyone plotting to fly-tip waste on community bonfires or illegally burn waste rather than disposing of it legitimately.”

“Burning wastes such as plastics and demolition waste is against the law and those who disregard the rules are not only harming the environment but risk a hefty fine and damage to their reputation.”

The agency is keen to show it is not without teeth and published a list of successful prosecutions where waste has been illegally burned under the guise of Guy Fawkes celebrations.

“Fly-tipping is one of our chief concerns at the moment,” said Ian Smith, a spokesman for the Environment Agency.

“There are unscrupulous people who see bonfire night as an open invitation to get rid of waste by illegal dumping.”

In one such case, a huge bonfire billowing thick smoke across the A4 prompted investigations which led to a skip hire company being found guilty of burning items including metal, plastics and polystyrene.

A quantity of waste equivalent in size to 15 articulated lorries parked side-by-side burned over a four day period at the site and the company was ordered to pay fines totalling £20,000.

Ben Bradshaw, Local Environment Minister added: “The kind of people who fly-tip are selfish and opportunistic.

“They chuck their rubbish everywhere and anywhere, and bonfires are often a favourite dumping ground.

“This year, with the new powers we have given them, local authorities and the Environment Agency will be paying extra special attention to local bonfires to catch these waste cheats.

“And if they are caught, they can expect hefty fines, and even imprisonment.”

As well as the warnings the agency has published the following tips for a successful environmentally-friendly Guy Fawkes night:

  • Go to an organised bonfire. It will be safer and the total impact on air quality and the environment will be less than lots of small bonfire parties.

  • If you are having your own bonfire, build it as close to November 5th as possible, ideally on the night itself. This will reduce the risk of pets and wildlife getting trapped in the fire. It is also less likely to be spotted ahead of the night and used by fly-tippers.

  • Do not burn plastics, aerosols, tyres or canisters. They can produce toxic fumes and some containers may explode causing serious injury. Keep an eye on the bonfire site to avoid unsuitable material being put on it. There is normally an abundance of tree and hedge cuttings at this time of year which are adequate to produce a bonfire.

  • Site bonfires away from areas important for wildlife or plants. Make sure it is put out fully after the event so embers don’t set any nearby vegetation alight.

  • Follow the safety advice issued by suppliers of fireworks and the Fire Service.

    Anyone unsure about what is safe to burn of who suspects hazardous materials are being burnt on bonfires in their vicinity can call the Environment Agency’s 24-hour pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

    By Sam Bond

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