Fireworks and bonfires are used around the world to celebrate specific events and in Great Britain we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November. It commemorates the events of 5th November 1605 when Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst guarding the explosives planted below the House of Lords. To celebrate the fact that King James I had survived an attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London and an annual public day of thanksgiving was introduced by the Observance of 5th November Act 1605.
In Spain, bonfires and fireworks play a central role in the midsummer festival of San Juan on 23rd June. One of the largest festivals takes place in Alicante where large figures are displayed in streets across the city then burned in succession following a firework display above the Town Hall.
Special foods are a feature of bonfire celebrations and in Spain locals serve coca de San Juan, a yeast bread sweetened with marzipan and cream and candied fruit. Toffee apples and jacket potatoes are a common food of Guy Fawkes Night in various areas of England.
But as we prepare to celebrate this year, it is worth remembering that such events can pose a risk and appropriate safety measures should be put in place. Calls to the Fire Service increase threefold on Guy Fawkes Night and in 2014-15 over 4,500 people attended Accident and Emergency Departments for treatment of a firework related injury. Studies have also identified a significant environmental impact of the celebrations with a four-fold increase in dioxin and furan levels after Gut Fawkes Night.
If you are going to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night this year consider going to an organised event where organisers will provide a safe environment in which to watch firework displays. Never drink alcohol if you are going to be handling fireworks and keep guests who have consumed alcohol away from fireworks and bonfires. Take precautions with pets by keeping them indoors and the curtains closed to keep them calm. If you are preparing your own private display consider the following safety advice;
- Sparklers can reach temperatures of 2,000oC
- Store sparklers and fireworks in a closed box in a cool, dry place
- Always light them one at a time and wear gloves
- Plunge finished sparklers – hot end down – into a bucket of water as soon as they have burnt out
- Remember sparklers can stay hot for a long time
- Check the fireworks you buy are CE Marked
- Ensure your display area is free from hazards
- Do not tamper with fireworks
- Read the instructions in daylight
- Warn neighbours, especially the elderly and those with animals, about your display
- A clearly identifiable person should be responsible for fireworks
Finally, whatever you decide to do on Guy Fawkes Night this year have a safe and enjoyable evening.
Mark Stouph, Health & Safety Consultant