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 but all brands are threats). 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 (and all brands for that matter) 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 category of products. 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? Here’s how you can help:
1. Blog about the risks at the beginning of each season and instruct gardeners to keep plants watered, maintained, and of special importance, remove all plant residue and potting soil once the container is past its prime. Stress of special importance is that the biggest looming threat for loss of lives is containers placed on the apartment balconies where flames spread, well, just like wildfire.
2. Blog about the risks again in the fall before the last frost to be sure to remove all potting soil and plant residue out of all containers.
3. Share the risks at your local garden club meetings.
4. if you are a freelance writer, request that your editor run a small sidebar on the risks each spring and fall as a public service.
5. And finally, please always provide the link to this blog post about my personal story.
Thanks in advance for addressing this ijimportant topic for our Industry.