It may be weeks yet until July 12th but bonfires are already a burning issue for many people in the city, writes Leona O’Neill.
Preparations have already begun for the annual 11th night bonfires as youths from Protestant areas in the city stockpile wooden palletes ahead of the Battle of the Boyne celebrations next month.
In the Derry City Council area bonfires are lit on the 11th July, in early August in connection with the Relief of Derry celebrations and around the Feast of the Assumption and internment (15th of August).
At least 15 bonfires are erected in Irish Street, The Fountain, Tullyally, Drumahoe, Newbuildings, Clooney Estate, Caw, Currynierin, Lecky Road, Creggan and Gobnascale.
The unionist community have held firm to their bonfire tradition in recent years. Eleventh night bonfires date back to the fires lit on the eve of the 1690 battle of the Boyne by King William’s army.
Thousands gather every year around the towering infernos which, in modern days, are used to burn wood, flags and in some cases rubbish including old sofas and car tyres.
The nationalist community have moved more towards celebration through summer festivals, although there still are several large bonfires held across the city in August.
Despite advice dangerous material such as tyres, sofas and fridges are regularly burned on bonfires, pumping highly toxic chemicals like furans, heavy metal oxides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the air. Indeed rubber tyres, often used to build these pyres, give off carcinagenic fumes when set on fire.
Ahead of next month’s bonfires, a spokesperson for Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Services (NIFRS) urged people to ‘Think Safety First’ when building bonfires.
“The NIFRS is appealing to the public to follow its safety advice when building or attending bonfires and to remember that NIFRS is not out to spoil anyone’s fun but is here to protect the community from the dangers of fire. NIFRS appeals to people to ‘Think Safety First’ when building bonfires by adhering to the following safety advice.
“Always site the bonfire well away from houses, garages, sheds, fences, overhead cables, trees and shrubs. As a guide allow a ratio of 1:5, i.e. the distance from the bonfire to the nearest property should be five times the height of the bonfire. Build the stack so that it is stable and will not collapse. Never build a hut or den inside the bonfire.”
The cost of cleaning up after the bonfires runs into the thousands.
As we move into a new era for Northern Ireland, and our city leading up to 2013, we ask the burning issue, is it time to dampen the flames of traditional bonfires?
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