My Planter is on Fire! Potting Soil is Flammable!!! One Documented Fatality to Date!

by Patrick on July 18, 2012

Recently, as one of my nurse’s aides was leaving Trinity Nursing & Rehab for her 11:00pm dinner break,  she was horrified to see one of my planters engulfed in a small fire ball. The planter was an extra-largge Kinsman hanging basket I had converted into a planter on a cedar stand. My aide called 911 and the fire was quickly extinguished before the structure of the building was threatened. The fire was allegedly set by a rehab resident sneaking a cigarette on this smoke-free campus and discarding a lighted butt into the potting soil. My first assumption was the coco-liner was at fault but upon examination of the remains and further research, Im convinced it was the potting soil. Indeed we were very luckily but we were hardly an anomaly!

After heavily damaged coco-fiber liner removed,  note charred posts with bare metal basket and plastic spattering on base,

Lives and Homes Are at Risk

According to a  report from a Certified Fire Investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, a fatal fire 0n 3/17/2011 was caused by the ignition of potting soil (specifically the Miracle Gro brand). The container was plastic, half full of dried potting soil under a covered balcony. Aided by the wind, the fire spread throughout a 12-unit apartment resulting in the death of a 56 year old male who could not escape the flames.

According to the investigator’s report , “I believe lives could be saved and millions of dollars of fire damages could be saved every year,  if warning labels were present on bags of potting soil. The general public is not aware of the hazards of this product and needs to be educated about the dangers.”

In reaction to the report,  Scott’s Miracle Gro responded  “this is a third person report of a  theoretical concern of the alleged dangers of  our product…the risks of damages is extremely low to non-existent because our product  is only intended to be used as a potting  medium.’  I fervently hope the family of the deceased was not exposed to this standard legal fare. They know what was responsible for their loved one’s death

I acquired this report through saferproducts.gov. One of many other reported incidents included a fire in Calgary in 2009 blamed for destroying a subdivision of 250 homes. And the City of Colorado Springs reported potting soil fires were responsible for over $3 million of property damage in just one calendar year!.i

Let me be clear, I’m discussing dried potting soil in these circumstances. As we know, potting soil is shipped in a moistened condition and is not dangerous until opened. Storing unused potting soil in a garage by other flammable material should also be a concern. That thought never came to mind before my planter was torched and I have dug into the subject.

A Call To Action

I’m sure Scott’s Miracle Gro would prefer the aforementioned “non-existent” fatality and the inherent risk of potting soil fires be buried in the annals of government watchdog reports. But as bloggers we are the most effective communicators in the industry today bar none, I think it should be our duty to warn the public of this inherently dangerous product. My experience as an advertising man tells me this type of warning should be an ongoing message when talking about container careening, My dear friends, will you join me on this mission?

Patrick's Garden

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberley July 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

Here I am, first again! : )

Oh my, I never thought about potting soil being flammable, but I guess it makes sense. Yet another reason for people not to smoke!

I do like the stand you made to hold the basket, charred though it is!

Hope to see a picture of the newly planted basket sometime soon! I’ve been seeing lots of ornamental peppers in our local nurseries lately.

Thanks for visiting my page yesterday. Come back in a few days to see pics of the Herrenhausengartens.

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Hey girl,
Got a light? Thanks for the complement of my stand. Basket looks great now. Thanks for stopping by?

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Kimberley July 19, 2012 at 7:28 am

P.S. My fourteen year old son with slight pyromania tendencies just read your post and got a worrisome gleam in his eye!

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Jennifer@threedogsinagarden July 20, 2012 at 6:56 am

I had no idea that potting soil was so flammable! I am sure the nurse did not know either. I am so glad that there were no injuries and the fire did not have a chance to spread. I agree Patrick, that this is a fire hazard warning worth repeating!

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Donna July 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Thank you for posting this. I had not heard of it before. Sorry to hear your planter was torched, but like you said, it was unlikely the nurse knew this either. I bet the nurse felt really, really bad. I use Miracle Gro potting soil too. Really makes you think.

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Yes the planter lives including some KSU purple ornamental peppers.
Best.

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm

She’s over it by now, Don’t want to know how many cartons she’s been through by now,
Best

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Bom July 22, 2012 at 4:40 am

At least no one was hurt in your incident and the fire caught early on. Thank you for the heads up. It is something one should think about regardless of brand, I think.

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hey Bom,
Don’t want to think if my aide hadn’t gone on brake. Us quads don’t move so fast. Shock,

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Gardener on Sherlock Street July 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Holy cow! I have heard of mulch piles starting on fire while decomposing inside. Is something in the potting mix creating heat as it decomposes or is it just volatile? I hope the planter got re designed and is doing ok in the heat!

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Hey Girl,
It’s the high bark % and just in opened packages.
Best.

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Pauline July 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

A warning for us all Patrick, thank goodness it was no worse and that no-one was hurt. I’ve never really thought about potting compost being flammable, I hope your campaign is successful.

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Patrick August 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Hey Girl,
Thanks for the support. When your building was at risk, you’d get an itching to do something too.
Best

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Jayne August 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

This is horrifying on so many levels! I have also been very discouraged that my dogs try to eat the potting soil out of my containers. SOMETHING is in it that is attractive to animals. But as to your fire, First let’s make sure it is not being manufactured in CHina, (God knows what could be in it) and second let’s make the soil company responsible for their product. WOuldnt their sales be impacted if it could be AGAINST the law to use their potting soil in any pot near a school, hospital or building where people are allowed to smoke? If people are going to toss thier butts in planters – and you know they do! – then this soil should be banned from public planters. You have to hit the big guys in the pocket book, that’s the only way you can make them move!

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Patrick August 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Money, money, money……………must be funny in the real men’s world!!!

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Dee Nash (@reddirtramblin) August 30, 2012 at 7:07 am

Wowee! That’s scary. I’m going to share it on Facebook. I never knew any of this, but I don’t use Scott’s potting soil. I use a local potting soil most of the time because it has rice hulls in it, and I like the way they decompose. Thanks for the heads up.~~Dee

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Patrick August 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Wowee is right on the money, my dear friend. Rice hulls? Never heard of that one before. I love to top off with coco husks because smells Hershey bars after an enabling rain!!!

One of my favs is cotton bol compost. Nice texture.. Love it!!!!!!!!!

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Patty Hicks August 30, 2012 at 8:02 am

Thanks for posting on this subject. I was thinking about this the other day when they were doing pieces on bark mulch fires in our area due to smokers tossing butts down into it. There was one report where they spoke about the fire smoldering in the soil and migrating through the dry soil which is laden with organic material that is also dry and making it to a building causing a major fire. It does not matter whose potting soil it is, when it’s dry it is flammable because of the materials it is made of, plain and simple. I live on a busy street with lots of foot traffic, lots of cigarette butts and I am sick of the mess and have to water along the sidewalk area so it won’t go up in flames so this kind of thing gets my dander up.

One thing though, whether you meant to or not, the tenor of your post seemed pretty rather unfairly one sided against one company which could lead to people believing their potting soil is worse than others which is not the case. You may not have intended it but there are many of us who noted this and are mentioning it on Facebook.

And again…thanks for bringing up the subject of fires in planters. I hope this will help start a larger conversation and hopefully educate those who need to know the facts.

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Patrick August 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

I’m planning to revise mine to cite other companies as well. Thanks much for the input.

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PlantPostings August 30, 2012 at 9:31 am

Yikes! I had no idea! And I’ve stored potting soil in the garage for years. You are probably saving lives with this post. Thanks for the info!

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Patrick August 30, 2012 at 11:24 am

Scary, isn’t it? I need to get the word out to more in the winter when more people are bogging.

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Skingraft May 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I just encountered this same problem. I snubbed out a cigarette butt on the side of an empty flower pot, nothing in the planter but Miracle-Gro potting soil. I came back a little later to find the soil full of hot embers, with the side of the wooden planter VERY hot to the touch. Never knew this would be an issue, scary! Please include a warning label, Miracle-Gro!

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Patrick May 14, 2013 at 10:11 am

Yes, I plan to work further on this subject.

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Karen September 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

I realize this post is about a year old, but I wanted to let u know that my planter that was built onto my porch railing caught fire & burned a portion of the railing. It was filled with miracle gro potting soil. I had put my cigarette out & put the butt in the planter. Apparently, I didn’t put it out completely. Who would have thought dirt could ignite???

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Patrick October 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm

But see that’s the rub. It’s just not dirt. High percentage is bark fiber and at the end of the day the fertilizer is made out of petrochemicals so it adds a nice kick to a quick explosion. Did you get a picture of the damage?

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