Safe habits prevent wood ash fires

As smoke rises from chimneys, officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry are on the lookout for smoke from other sources. Household fires produce leftover ash; when improperly disposed of, this ash can cause a wildland fire.

forestry12“During the winter months, with cold weather all day long, wood stoves may be burning continuously. Ashes are dumped more frequently, and that increases the fire risk,” said Derek Keiser, VDOF technician in Amherst, Campbell and Nelson counties. “Wood ashes retain their heat for several days, enough to ignite the dry grass or other combustible materials nearby.” High winds can uncover the still-hot embers and start a wildland fire. Investigations have traced the source of fires back to ash piles, some a week old.

To reduce the risk of this potentially serious threat, follow these steps to cool down wood ash completely and prevent hot wood ash from igniting forest, field and structural fires:

DO keep ashes in a metal container that can be tightly closed with a metal lid.

DO teach other family members about the dangers associated with hot ash disposal.

DO NOT dispose of ashes in paper, plastic or cardboard containers.

DO NOT dump loads of wood ashes into one pile. The pile can retain heat and insulate embers for long periods of time.

DO NOT assume the ashes are cold and pour them onto the ground or into a hole. Leaves can blow onto them or the wind can stir up sparks.

DO NOT place ashes in a dumpster. Hot ashes could ignite a fire with material already in the dumpster.

DO NOT store your metal ash container on your home’s deck, in your garage or in any location that may allow heat to transfer from those hot ashes to nearby flammable items.

Wood ash, once completely cooled, can safely be dumped. To properly dispose of hot ashes, pour the ashes into the metal container. Soak the ashes with water. Place the metal lid securely on the container. Put the closed container outside your home away from combustible materials. Store ashes in the container for several days.

Once you are positive the ashes in your container are “cold,” spread them in a garden or a gravel driveway and then prepare your container for the next load.


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