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Fireplace ashes and structure fires

January 27, 2011

It happened again!  It’s been our second in about three weeks.  In talking with other fire agencies around Spokane County, it’s not that uncommon.  Fireplace, wood stove and even pellet stove ashes get cleaned out of the heating appliance and put in some type of combustible container inside or next to the house.  In a short time, someone is calling 911 because the house is on fire.

Fireplace ashes hold heat for a long time.  We’ve seen ashes sit for days before igniting a structure fire.  Many people put them in a plastic grocery sack and sit them somewhere to take out with the trash.  Sometimes we see them placed in a paper grocery bag.  Often they wind up in a garbage can with the other combustible trash.  All of these are ingredients for a disastrous recipe.

When you dig ashes up and stir them around, you’re feeding oxygen to the ashes.  By placing ashes in a combustible container (bag or plastic trash can) you’re providing the fuel.  Over time the heat may build up enough to ignite the fuel and you’re off to the races with a structure fire.

You need to remove ashes from wood burning appliances periodically to keep them working efficiently.  Here are some tips to ensure you don’t wind up damaging your home in the process:

  1. Wait until the wood burning appliance has cooled down.  Don’t remove ashes while they’re hot.
  2. Use a metal bucket or container with a tight-fitting lid for transporting the ashes.  Plastic buckets will melt if there is enough heat.  A tight-fitting lid will reduce fresh oxygen supply to the ashes.
  3. Get the ashes outside and away from the house immediately.  Don’t leave them sitting somewhere until you have a chance to dispose of them.  Get it done now!
  4. Pour water in with the ashes to ensure they’re out, wet and cold.  Then let them set for a week.  If you want to dispose of the ashes in the garbage, pour cold, wet, week-old ashes in your garbage can when you put it out for pickup.
  5. Better yet, sprinkle the ashes on your garden (not if you have straw, mulch, or any other combustible covering on the garden however).  If there is snow on the ground, that will help ensure your ashes get cold and wet.  Over the winter, that material will settle into your garden plot to be worked in next spring.

The following links provide some information from others on disposing of ashes safely.

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From → Fire Prevention

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