A couple of weeks ago, tragedy struck in Norwalk when a fire ripped through a home, killing two of the occupants. The cause of this terrible event was most likely improper disposal of smoking materials.
However, this is probably not what you are thinking -- carelessly dumping an ashtray into the garbage or the like. The culprit was mostly likely a planter on the front porch of the home where someone had snuffed out their cigarette -- or so they thought.
Most potting soils contain high levels of peat moss which, besides being a very good growing medium, is also very flammable. In fact, peat moss is still burned in parts of the world for heating and cooking purposes.
This phenomenon is not as unusual as one might think. Over my career, I have seen many fires (or close calls) caused in this manner; someone sticks their cigarette butt into a potted plant or other type of planter where it smolders (depending on moisture content) and, if not discovered, eventually erupts to free-burning and spreads if conditions are right.
Another factor that made this fire so deadly was that it started outside on the front porch, so it had an unlimited oxygen supply. I am told that the home did have working smoke detectors; however, an outside fire gains substantial headway before it breaks into the home and is detected by smoke alarms. Life safety depends on early detection; careless disposal of fireplace ashes and cigarettes puts sleeping residents at a distinct and life-threatening disadvantage. This is not uncommon. In fact, the tragic Christmas Day fire in Stamford that took five lives most likely started in a mudroom/porch that was separated from the main structure by walls and doors.
The lesson here is to never dispose of smoking materials in planters or the like -- always make sure smoking materials are completely extinguished, soaked with water and desposed of properly.
For questions regarding this article or any other fire safety-related items, contact the New Canaan Fire Marshal's Office at 203-594-3030.