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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Spontaneous Combustion - A FireThreat

6/17/2016 (Permalink)

Every now and again we see a loss that that could have been prevented. We recently inspected a house fire started by a contractor leaving a pile of oily rags in the house. Many people think this is an urban myth but it is not and is a serious source of fires in homes, garages, and on farms (barns, silos, stables, etc.).

Oily rags left in an open container or piled up in a heap can become a safety nightmare. They can burst into flames hours or days after they were discarded with "no apparent reason." This is because oils do not dry through evaporation, they dry through oxidation, the same process that generates fire!

This spontaneous ignition or combustion requires three elements: fuel, oxygen and a source of heat. It doesn't require a flame to ignite because heat can develop through the oxidation process. If the heat is able to dissipate, it generally causes no problems. But when the heat being generated in the pile cannot be released into the air, such as when combustible materials are left in piles, it will build up until ignition occurs.

Some common examples of materials subject to spontaneous ignition when in contact with combustible materials like cotton rags include:

  • Oils - linseed oil, tung oil and vegetable (cooking) oil 
  • Oil-based paints, stains and varnishes 
  • Some deck sealers; polyurethane; or paint thinners. 
  • Safe Storage

    Since oxygen is required for combustion, storing damp, oily rags in an airtight metal container is a good way to prevent combustion. Another way is to spread the rags out or hang them up individually so the heat can dissipate. Once dried, they can be disposed of properly. NEVER place oily rags in a washing machine or dryer!!!

    We hope you never experience a fire in your home, but if you do, call SERVPRO of Carbondale/Clarks Summit/Old Forge at (570) 235-1646 and we will make it "Like it never even happened."

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