Wisconsin Officials Warn About Dangers of Spontaneous Combustion


One day after a Town of Dunn house was destroyed in a blaze, investigators have identified spontaneous combustion as the cause for igniting the fire. They said that it appears some deck staining rags that weren't properly disposed of are the culprit.

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While such situations are unusual, some local experts are warning the members of the public about spontaneous combustion and how they can prevent such a situation at their own homes.

When firefighters arrived at the home, located on Edgewood Drive near Lake Kegonsa on Tuesday afternoon, flames were already shooting through the roof. Damage is estimated at $325,000, WISC-TV reported.

Fire and emergency departments from Stoughton, McFarland, Cottage Grove, Monona, Fitchburg and Blooming Grove assisted at the scene.

Fire investigators have already determined that spontaneous combustion is responsible for the blaze and are zeroing in on the rags. The family had been staining a deck in preparation for a wedding later this year and apparently left the rags in a plastic bag.

Experts said on Wednesday that they were even a little surprised to hear of the incident. These types of fires are rare and they have a tendency to take people by surprise because it seems the flames virtually come out of thin air.

For some, such a scenario is hard to imagine -- that some staining rags sitting on a deck in a plastic bag eventually reduced the home into a pile of ashes.

Scott Miller, deputy chief and fire marshal with the McFarland Fire Department, said that spontaneous combustion fires are unusual but they can happen.

"With yesterday's temperatures and stuff like that and with the oxygen in the bag, conditions were favorable for spontaneous combustion," Miller said.

Miller said that about 2,100 fires across the country start from spontaneous combustion every year.

"I've seen this twice in McFarland. We had one about five years ago. The insurance adjustor says this is his third one this year," Miller said.

Some workers at area hardware stores said that the beginning of summer always prompts an increase in staining projects, WISC-TV reported.

"Really we get countless people everyday coming in for stains, for doing decks, interior and exterior, but a lot of deck staining," said Josh Thornton, a paint expert at Ace Hardware.

Experts said that it's what people do after the project that's most important.

"Typically, a good thing is to get a thing of Tupperware, put some water in it, put the old rags and stains in there and seal it up," Thornton said. "That way, whenever you dispose of it, it doesn't have the chance to combust."

Experts said that the lesson the can be learned from this situation again is how important it is to handle flammable, combustible products like deck stains in a safe manner.

Similarly, Miller said that people can keep oily rags in a tightly sealed container. He advises people place them on hangers and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated, dry area.

Miller said that in the case of Town of Dunn home, the deck-staining material was used to stain an archway for an upcoming wedding.