In the past year, the Sycamore Fire Department has responded to two residential home fires caused by spontaneous combustion or ignition. The most recent fire was discovered early in its development; however, the damage caused by the smoke and other products of combustion will run into thousands of dollars. Another similar fire last winter was well advanced prior to discovery and resulted in the total loss of the home. These fires had common factors: they were both in buildings under renovation which had oil or stain soaked rags unintentionally left inside the homes.
Spontaneous combustion/ignition occurs when oil or stain soaked rags or towels are heated to their ignition temperature by a chemical reaction (oxidation) that creates and releases heat. If this heat can’t be dissipated, it will build up in the combustible material until ignition occurs.
Generally, the build-up of heat to the ignition point occurs when the rags or towels are in a pile so that the heat being generated cannot adequately escape. This process only occurs with animal and vegetable oils that are found in oil-based paints, certain stains, polishes and finishing oils. Stain, paint and finishing oil manufacturers are aware of this hazard and that’s why these products have consumer warning labels on how to dispose of product soaked rags properly.
The Sycamore Fire Department cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to read these instructions and follow them to the letter. Many manufacturers advocate soaking the rags in water and letting them dry outside (NOT in a clothes dryer). Manufacturers use different oils, so disposal measures will be unique to each product. The manufacturer has performed testing on their product. They know what it takes to avoid a fire with their product and their specific instructions must be followed to protect your home.
If you have any questions regarding this topic, please contact Assistant Sycamore Fire Chief Art Zern @ (815) 895-4514
The Sycamore Fire Departments also wants to remind all residents:
• Every home should have a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm.
• When exiting a building where there is a fire, close doors behind you to slow the spread of fire.