The council has told me that what I saw was an ‘alleged bonfire’. When I described flames towering into the sky and black smoke curling over the village, that was an ‘alleged bonfire’.
When the builder boyfriend was shutting the field gate and could see a bright blue explosion, what he was witnessing was the start of an ‘alleged bonfire’.
We often meet at the horses after he finishes work, then we drive home in our separate cars. He let me out the gate first and stayed behind to lock it. After he rang me and told me what he could see on the horizon, I turned round and drove back to the pub, which is just down the lane from the field.
It was now pitch dark and orange flames roared into the sky. Just behind the pub car park, in an adjoining field, was the most enormous bonfire. It was identical to the bonfire they light at this pub every year on 5 November for the Guy Fawkes celebrations. But this year the pub chain informed us, when we rang to enquire whether we would need to move our horses, that they would not be having an event, due to Covid.
So what in the name of gunpowder, treason and plot was this?
As I pulled in, the builder boyfriend was already there arguing with the man who had lit the fire, who was getting into his van. He was protesting that his boss, a demolition man well known to locals, had given him strict instructions to light the fire, then leave. The builder b was shouting at him to tell him what was in it, but he said he had been told not to say.
Clearly, whatever was in it needed burning whether or not there was a Guy Fawkes celebration, which begged the question: what the hell had they been burning last year, and the umpteen years before that? Because this demolition man always builds the bonfire at this pub, and local families always stand around it.
‘You scumbag!’ yelled the builder boyfriend, as the flunky got in his van. ‘You’ve lit a fire right next to a field shelter full of horses behind that hedge. You tell your boss I hope he…’ But the flunky drove off.
All things considered, we decided to call it in, not least because as I stood there watching the flames, my head began to throb.
‘Is it me or have you got a funny taste in your mouth?’ I asked the BB. ‘It’s not you. Don’t go near it,’ he said.
I dialled 999 and the fire brigade said that as the fire had been left unattended, which was illegal, they would come and put it out.
I then made a video of the fire with my phone, ignoring the BB’s advice and walking as close as I could get, holding my breath to avoid the acrid smoke.
I filmed how close the fire was to the field shelter full of horses, and the massive container of petrol a few feet from the flames.
When the fire crews arrived they had to get the pub to unlock the car park gates, which we had climbed, so they could get the engine on to the grass, where they began hosing down the fire. We went home, content that our horses were safe.
The next morning, however, I got a call from a resident who lives across the road. Demolition man and his team were back. They had tipped another container of petrol on to the wet mess, along with more refuse, and relit it.
We called the fire brigade and they came and hosed it out again. Someone also called the council. That afternoon, demolition man sent his team to scoop the bonfire remains into a skip and tow them away.
That evening, at 6.30 p.m., environmental health officers finally turned up and noted that there was no fire.
In a statement, the council said they went back again on Monday to check but they still couldn’t see anything. They advised us that the time to notify them is when a bonfire is being built, adding: ‘Although we do not have powers to take action when a fire is not lit, I would suggest that if you witness an impending bonfire on this land, where it is stockpiling waste material that could give rise to black smoke, please notify us.’
Of course. I will ask demolition man to let us know when he starts planning his next fire. I’ll explain that the town hall idiots who are our only protection from being poisoned need several days’ notice before an illegal fire begins so they can organise arriving in time to take samples and then witness the exact moment of ignition.