Fire safety at festivals

Whether you’re a fire-eater by profession or simply like to be able to make tea at your campsite, a weekend greenfield festival is likely to bring you into contact with a few naked flames. But there’s no need to fear. We’ve compiled a few tips so you can make sure your festival experience is a safe and happy one.

1. Practice makes perfect
Many camping accidents happen because people are using unfamiliar equipment. Don’t leave reading the instructions until you’ve already had your first pint of scrumpy. Try fitting your first ever gas canister or having a practice barbie in the garden at home where there’s both space and easy access to water.

2. It’s good luck to plan for fire
Arrive while it’s light and look for campfire or cooking areas, escape routes, water sources and where to go for help. Read safety notices, and make an escape plan. A tent can burn in seconds, so be prepared to cut your way out. Have water to hand when you cook.

3. A gas canister can become a missile
Never throw a gas canister onto a fire. The explosion will often propel it with some force, which could cause serious injury. If you think there’s a gas canister on a fire or in a burning tent, raise the alarm and make sure everyone stays at least 100 m away.

4. Tents should be 6 m apart to prevent fire spreading
That’s the guidance at some campsites, but you’re unlikely to manage it at even a tiny festival, so be super-vigilant instead. Keep lighted cigarettes and flames away from your tent and take care to extinguish everything fully, especially before sleeping. Use electric torches, never candles, and don’t take flammable liquids.

5. Rules can vary
Much of fire safety is common sense, but organisers consider the site, crowd numbers and culture of that festival before creating specific safety strategies. Some provide communal campfires or heaters, for example, but won’t allow yours. Some have designated cooking areas. Check before you leave so you know what to bring.

6. Your tent can become a bomb
Never change a gas canister inside a tent. It’s not just about inhaling the gas. Add an open flame, and boom! When you’ve had a few drinks it can be frighteningly easy to forget that cigarette in your hand, or the joss-stick you just bought, is alight.

7. It’s not just about the flames
Never cook in your tent or bring in a lighted barbecue. People have died after taking portable barbecues inside for warmth. They give off lethal carbon monoxide for several hours after use and tents with sewn in groundsheets fill up in minutes. Fumes can overcome you before you notice them.

8. There are flares, and flares
A wax garden flare is intended to be safe if handled sensibly, but cheap ones can explode, so some events ban them.
Marine distress flares burn extremely hot and can cause injuries or fires even after they’ve gone out. They are unsafe around crowds and banned from most events.

9. Chinese lanterns are surprisingly destructive
Chinese lanterns (aka sky lanterns or wishes) are banned by many events. Don’t buy them, even if they say they have ‘biodegradeable’ bamboo frames. They each have to come down somewhere and can start fires if still alight. The debris they create, particularly the frames, kill both wildlife and livestock.

10. Your phone is a safety tool
If there’s a fire, call the emergency services and tell them exactly where you are. A mobile will make it easier to do this quickly, and may also be able to provide GPS co-ordinates to help them to find you in a place that may not have an exact address.

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