Millions of bags of potting soil are sold nationwide every year, but with temperatures climbing ever higher, a handful of harmless dirt can turn into a fire hazard – a lesson that a West Virginia family learned the hard way.
Firefighters have determined that a porch fire on Washington Avenue in Wheeling last month started because a potted plant overheated and burst into flames, causing significant damage to the exterior of the house.
Although soil fires are not an everyday occurrence, officials say that they can happen with the right combination of high humidity, extreme heat and dry soil, according to the station WTOV.
Fire hazard: Potting soil that contains fertilizer can burst into flames if exposed to high humidity in combination with extreme heat
Wheeling Fire Department Assistant Chief Ed Geisel said the mixture of the potting soil, shredded bark, peat moss and Styrofoam balls can be flammable in those conditions.
‘Back to the old rule of spontaneous combustion: The organic and inorganic material that is put in potting soil now combined with some fertilizers that some soils have. And fertilizer is an oxidizer, which would intensify spontaneous combustion,’ Geisel explained.
Spontaneous combustion: A house in Wheeling sustained heavy damage when a dry potted plant outside sparked a fire
Although potting soil usually causes small conflagrations that can be easily put out, in case of the Wheeling fire, by the time someone spotted the flames, the damages has already been done to the house.
What raises concerns is that although fire officials like Geisel are well aware of potting soil’s potential combustibility, there are no fire hazard warning labels on bags containing the product in home and garden stores.
No warning: Bags of potting soil that are sold in home and garden stores do not carry fire hazard labels
Geisel said the best way to prevent a fire is to simply water potted plants, especially in the hot summer months, and remove dead vegetation.
The soil could also ignite when people use their potted plants as ashtrays