by Stephanie Suesan Smith on June 20, 2011

As I write this, there are large fires in Arizona, Texas, and other places.  It is hot, dry, and windy.   You may think fires have little to do with gardening, but you would be wrong.  Gardeners can start fires without meaning to or cause a fire to be much worse than it has to be.  Don’t be that gardener.

The most obvious source of fire is the compost bin.  If your compost pile is running really hot, it can spontaneously combust.  The debris that has not composted provides a ready source of fuel and you suddenly have a huge problem on your hands.  It is part of composting to monitor the temperature of the compost pile.  While you want it to heat enough to kill pathogens and sterilize seeds in it, you must pull it apart to cool it if it gets too hot.  Pull small amounts of material from the edges of the pile and spread it out to cool.  Continue this until you have the pile torn apart. Be very careful and if there is smoke or flame, call the fire department immediately and stop doing anything with the pile.  Smoldering material can erupt into flame if given oxygen, so it is best to let professionals deal with it.

Another danger is the chemicals gardeners use.  Even if you are an organic gardener, the stuff you put on your plants is a chemical.  Dormant oil, kerosene, diesel, many insecticides and herbicides are all flammable.  Worse, in a fire, they put off poisonous gas.  You need to keep an inventory of your chemicals separate from them so if you have a fire, you have a copy to give the firemen.  This effects how they fight the fire and what equipment they will need to do so.  Many of these chemicals will kill someone who breathes in their smoke, so if you have a fire in an area where they are stored, get professional help putting it out.

Finally we can cause fires with our equipment.  When the area is tinder dry, a spark from a chain saw, edger, trimmer, or even lawn mower can ignite a fire.  Be sure you are aware of how your equipment performs.  Do not use machines that spark when it is that dry.  The conflagration that might result just isn’t worth it.

As dry as the area is, we are only in June.  Things will get much worse before the rains start in October.  Be very careful outside and make sure you don’t end up on the news as the person who started a major fire.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sonny June 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I recently learned that there’s an actual season for wildfires in Southern California (much like there’s a hurricane season in the South). It starts in October when the Santa Ana winds begin blowing in earnest.

As a gardener (though I myself am not) in that state, that’s useful to know…
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Mike June 28, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Yeah, I’ve heard of compost bins suddenly combusting like that. Scary. Composting is a great thing, especially for gardeners, but it can definitely have some pitfalls to it. Ours tends to attract quite a few critters.
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Stephanie Suesan Smith June 29, 2011 at 5:57 am

Are you composting dairy, meat, and oils? That seems to attract the most critters, while just vegetable matter doesn’t seem to be a problem.


Mike June 29, 2011 at 10:44 am

I think we tend to put more in there than we should. We try to keep it to just vegetables matter and coffee grounds, but we eat a lot of fish and we often put that in the compost. We’ve heard that putting fish in the compost is really good for it, but the smell is so strong that it attracts everything close by.
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Stephanie Suesan Smith June 30, 2011 at 6:44 am

You will attract everything from flies to possums if you put fish in your compost pile.


Sawyer from Orbit Sprinkler Systems July 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

My grandmothers attracts bears. My son (9 years at the time) was told to put the scraps in the compost bin behind the barn (in a woodsy area). He didn’t even know there were bears in the area, but something about doing it by himself scared him. He just had a feeling there was something back there (like a bear). I went with him. Later some other family members actually saw a bear picking through it. Talk about kid intuition.


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