Compost Fire Causes $150,000 Damage to Home

ffA two alarm fire Monday afternoon caused by compost barrel in the backyard caused exterior damage to a home of Bennington Street and displaced four people.

The Boston Fire Department responded at 1:14 p.m. to 1215 Bennington St. East Boston near the Revere line for a building on fire. Smoke was showing at the property when firefighters arrived. Fire was in the rear of an occupied two and a half story wood frame house. On arrival a 2nd alarm was ordered in order to quickly knock down the blaze.

Boston Fire Chief and Commissioner Joseph Finn said the fire was caused by the decomposing of compost material in a barrel outside the home. The material generated enough heat over time to ignite. Finn estimates damage at $150,000 but was happy there were no injuries.

“My thanks to all the firefighters in East Boston this afternoon for the quick knockdown with no injuries…solid Work by all,” said Finn.  “In East Boston, the value of having a quick, aggressive response with sufficient firefighters on duty pays off.”

With composting becoming more popular in Eastie and throughout the city, the Fire Departments warns of its dangers and how to properly contain compost.

Surprisingly, a great deal of heat is created by the microbial activity, which is occasionally enough to cause a fire.  However, these fires are extremely rare, as they occur only under a limited set of circumstances that would ordinarily be avoided using common sense.

The following key conditions must be met in order for a compost pile to light itself on fire: dry materials that go unattended; biological activity; dry pockets of debris among a non-uniform mix of materials; large, well-insulated piles; limited air flow; poor moisture distribution due to neglect or oversight in monitoring; and unknown temperature within the pile, and time for the temperature to build up.

Residents who compost should use the following tips to help avoid compost fires: assure adequate ventilation of the pile to release heat; urn the pile or use a mechanical aeration system to ensure ventilation. Narrow, short piles generally have adequate ventilation; do not turn a pile that is smoldering, as the sudden infusion of oxygen can cause the pile to erupt into flames; do not let the pile get too dry. “Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26 to 46 percent moisture, if the temperature exceeds 200° F”; monitor the pile’s temperature, focusing on the hottest spot in the pile; use a thermometer long enough to reach the center of the pile; do not let the pile get too hot; if the temperature of the pile exceeds 160° F, reduce the temperature through the following methods, reduce the size of the pile, add water to 55 percent moisture, mix in coarse, bulky material, such as wood chips and do not pile compost next to buildings or any flammable structures, as fire can spread easily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *