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Potting Soil Ignites Fires In Sioux Falls

July 21, 2012, 6:12 PM by Hailey Higgins

Potting Soil Ignites Fires In Sioux Falls

The extreme heat and severe drought is causing bizarre fires to ignite from potting soil in South Dakota's biggest city.

Spontaneous combustion may sound too weird to be true, but Sioux Falls Fire Rescue says it's happening within the city.

Many potting soil mixes on the market contain more organic material than inorganic material. When you combine that with fertilizers, as well as hot and dry conditions, you may have a fire on your hands.

To douse that risk, Springbrook Estates management is taking unusual steps.

People who live at the apartment complex at 807 North Cleveland Avenue were given a notice Friday, urging them to remove any dead plants and potting soil from their decks and patios immediately.

And the reason was spontaneous combustion.

"I thought it was a pretty unique deal. I didn't know something like that would be happening," apartment complex renter Brandon Staab said. "I suppose with these dry conditions anything is possible with that stuff."

The phenomenon may be new to renters like Staab, but lately it's keeping Sioux Falls Fire Rescue crews busy.

"We've had, in the last 48 hours, at least three instances where it's involved some type of potting soil," Battalion Chief Steve Fessler said.

Fessler said most fires occur when a potted plant is used as an ash tray, when a cigarette ignites the combustible potting soil. But Fessler adds one of the recent potting soil fires was at a house with non-smokers.

While the property manager at Springbrook Estates declined to comment on the notice he sent to his residents, Fessler says it's not a bad recommendation.

"We haven't gone out and said no pots on decks or anything like that but the main thing is people are aware of it and can take precaution and try not to put the cigarettes out in the pots," Fessler said.

To prevent your potting soil from spontaneously combusting, Fessler says it’s important to keep the soil moist. Also, use clay pots instead of plastic to contain the fire if one breaks out.

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