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Published May 17, 2012, 10:30 PM

Fire officials warn of danger of using flower pots as ashtrays

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Local fire departments are frustrated with the number of balcony and deck fires in the metro. The culprit? Flower pots used as ashtrays. It is what's inside the pots that are creating potentially deadly fires.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Local fire departments are frustrated with the number of balcony and deck fires in the metro. The culprit? Flower pots used as ashtrays. It is what's inside the pots that are creating potentially deadly fires.

With the help of Fargo Fire, we are able to see just how quickly a cigarette can quickly ignite the material inside a flower pot.

Matt Nelson – Fargo Fire Department: “This past week when we’ve had many windy days, it will sit there and smolder and it will heat up to the point where it will actually catch on fire.”

Within a few seconds actually, the potting mix ignites. It turns out, it is pretty good kindling.

Matt Nelson: “Sometimes in the spring, people will have left over potted plants from the previous summer and start using them as an ashtray.”

Longtime NDSU Extension Horticulturist Ron Smith says designer soil, what you find in your flower pots from nurseries and big box stores, is not really dirt.

Ron Smith – NDSU Extension Horticulture: “It is organic and it comes from decaying living material, and this is wood and wood burns easily.”

One of the biggest problems is when the smoker goes back in the home or apartment, leaving the smoldering potting soil to then ignite the pot. Next the fire can quickly spread to vinyl siding or decking.

Matt Nelson: “What happens is the vinyl siding goes up the exterior wall into the soffit and starts the attic on fire and unfortunate consequence is there aren’t any smoke alarms in the attic, so the fire can be fully involved without the occupants even knowing about it until it’s too late.”

The best advice from Fargo Fire is don't use plant pots as ashtrays, especially if there is potting mix or dead plants in them. Some fertilizers in potting mix actually help a fire grow at a faster rate.

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