Potting Soil Fires

The Colorado Springs Fire Department routinely responds to significant fires with devastating outcomes all because a cigarette was put out in the dirt of a potted plant. Although many people think that this is a safe practice, not all dirt is the same. Today’s potting soils contain very little actual soil but instead, they have large volumes of peat moss shredded wood, bark, styrofoam and vermiculite in potting mix. All of these ingredients are highly flammable and ignite easily under dry conditions. Once the soil ignites, fertilizers in the mix will accelerate the flames.

When a cigarette is put out in the dirt of a potted plant, the soil can work to insulated the lit cigarette, heat the soil to an ignition temperature and begin to smolder. These types of fires can often smolder for several hours and when enough oxygen is available, the materials will break out into flames. If the planter is located near other combustible items like a deck, side of the house or fence, they may become involved resulting in a serious fire. If you are a smoker, please remember to keep your “butt” out of the dirt and use a sturdy, metal ashtray to properly extinguish your smoking materials.

Keep in mind that the soil in pots dries out more quickly than soil in garden beds, so plan on more frequent watering

Action Steps You Can Take:

  • Water potted plants regularly
  • Make sure the soil around your potted plants stays moist
  • Keep ashtrays handy
  • Make sure smokers have a safe place to dispose of their butts, indoors and outdoors
  • Use clay pots where possible. If a fire breaks out, a clay pot will keep it contained better than other types of pots
  • Do not use potting soil labeled for indoor use only in outdoor containers, as different ingredients can dry out faster outdoors in the sun
  • Keep potting soil away from combustible materials that could ignite and burn easily, such as firewood, stacks of old newspapers, aerosols, paint solvents, gasoline and cleaning products
  • Dispose of unused potting soil carefully
  • Unused soil can dry out quickly and become a fire hazard
  • If you have any left over, spread it on your garden beds
  • Always follow the manufacturers' directions for the type of potting soil you are using

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