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Potting compost (2)
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Fire caused by the possible spontaneous combustion of dry potting compost

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Planters that had not been watered for some considerable time and the foliage was dead and very dry

Planters that had not been watered for some considerable time and the foliage was dead and very dry

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This small fire caused damage not only to the planters on the roof terrace but also the paving and insulation

This small fire caused damage not only to the planters on the roof terrace but also the paving and insulation

How this fire happened

A small fire occurred on roof terrace which was confined to two planters.

It was discovered by security staff, who raised the alarm.

None of the planters had been watered for some considerable time and the foliage was dead and very dry.

According to the site staff, there was no event running on the terrace during the preceding evening or in fact any of the days before.

There being no other ignition source, the cause of fire, is thought to be spontaneous combustion.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service attended the incident and dealt with the fire.

A number of paving slabs were removed to check the spread and there was evidence of damage to the expanded polystyrene insulation board and the roof liner membrane below.

Peat moss, a common organic ingredient in potting soil and soil conditioning products, presents a fire hazard under certain conditions.

The presence of peat moss in planters and flower beds provides a flammable medium when conditions are particularly dry.

Some fires of this type have been attributed to spontaneous combustion. Although peat moss can spontaneously ignite, to create the conditions under which this is possible would usually require a much larger quantity of material than would normally be found in even a large planter or flower pot.

A depth of several feet is usually necessary to allow sufficient heat build up to result in ignition.

Fire most often occurs when an external heat source makes contact with the peat. For example, a discarded cigarette butt generates temperatures in excess of 350 degrees C.

Smokers should avoid discarding butts in planters.

Fires which begin in planters can burn unnoticed for several hours.

Peat smoulders rather than bursting into flame and can burn down to the base of the container with no more evidence than a thin smoke plume and pungent odour.

Any flammable materials near the container can help spread the fire.

Examination of the CCTV footage from the previous 12 hours indicted that no one had accessed the area, making application of an external heat source i.e. cigarette butt, unlikely.

The effect it had

 This small fire caused damage not only to the planters on the roof terrace but also the paving and insulation.

In all, approximately £7,000 will be spent in remedial costs.

Safety message

        
  • Smokers should discard butts and  matches in appropriate disposal containers, rather than planters or garden beds. The danger can be reduced by providing receptacles for smokers.           
  • Planters should keep well watered to reduce flammability and remove dead plants to lessen available potential fuel for a fire.
  • Planters should not rest on or against flammable surfaces such as wooden decks or siding.
  • Remove and dispose of dead plants promptly.
  • Where possible, use non-combustible planters and flowerpots.
  • Should a fire start call the Fire and Rescue Service.

Further information

Do you have a similar story?

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Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.

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Latest Update :
03 February 2015
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