From the Office of The Fire Marshal John Planas.
As we get into the summer season, outdoor home improvement activities start to increase. Some home improvement tasks include outdoor staining of decks or furniture. This can be a dangerous task if the rags used to stain these items are not properly disposed of. In the past year, this office has already investigated two large structure fires that were the result of oil-soaked rags spontaneously combusting.
The most common type of Spontaneous Combustion fires are those caused by improperly disposing of oil and stain soaked rags. Examples of these products are oil-based paints, stains, teak, linseed oils, varnishes, polyurethane, paint thinners, etc. Spontaneous combustion of oily rags occurs when rag or cloth is slowly heated to its ignition point through oxidation. A substance will begin to release heat as it oxidizes. If this heat has no way to escape, like in a pile, the temperature will rise to a level high enough to ignite the oil and ignite the rag or cloth. The fire from this can spread quickly to other combustibles and cause great damage to your home or property.
Prevention of spontaneous combustion fires begins with good housekeeping. A clean work area can prevent a fire from spreading and getting bigger by not allowing the fire fuel to burn. Also understanding the potential for self-heating of rags soiled with oils such as linseed oil and turpentine is a key step in eliminating these preventable fires. To properly and safely dispose of oily rags,
Use a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Place soiled and used rags inside and then fill the rest the way with water, seal the top and do not open it. This will prevent the oils from oxidizing, and thus keeping the rags from heating up and igniting. Contact your local garbage disposal company for their policy on disposal of the can and contents. Also, contact the town for the Hazardous Waste Collection schedule to dispose of any harmful chemicals or soaked rags.
If you have any questions or concerns about hazardous chemicals, please do not hesitate to contact Fire Marshal John Planas at 860-767-4340 ext. 146.