Officials link potting soil to devastating Northland house fire - KCTV5

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Officials link potting soil to devastating Northland house fire

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A Northland home quickly went up in flames, and now firefighters have determined the fire started from a surprising source.

The family learned the hard way just how dangerous potting soil can be.

Firefighters said Tuesday the house fire near Northeast 98th Street and Woodland Avenue was caused by a cigarette that someone put out in a pot of potting soil.

Officials said it smoldered for at least four days before finally igniting.

"I think most people look at it like it is just dirt, but it is actually more than dirt," fire education specialist Tricia Roberts said.

Roberts, with the Overland Park Fire Department, said fires caused by potting soil are more common than you would think.

"Potting soil doesn't actually have all that much soil in it. There is a lot of organic matter, and that matter is flammable," Roberts said.

Inside potting soil is peet moss, a form of vegetation that is harvested and mixed in with soil at varying degrees to improve structure and add moisture. In some parts of the world, it is even used for fuel.

It doesn't pose a safety threat when it is planted and consistently watered, but when used to extinguish a cigarette, as was the case at this home, the results could mean disaster.

"Until this story, I wouldn't have ever thought of that myself until you analyze what is actually in it," landscaping expert Wes Lane said.  "If it was stuffed down there, where there wasn't any oxygen, it could've smoldered for a long period of time and then when it got enough oxygen it would combust."

Experts say it is best to steer clear of using potting soil as a place to put out a cigarette.

"Best recommendation is to put it out in a can of water or a bucket of sand," she said.

Weather conditions can also play a role as well.

In this particular fire, the plant with that soil was left out on the deck and it had been pretty warm and dried out, which didn't help matters.

Experts say if someone has dead plants in pots, they should throw them out in the trash or spread the soil from the pot in the yard or garden.  Also, they say to remember to keep potted plants well watered.

Finally, if keeping soil in the garage or on the deck, officials say do not leave it near anything that could spark a fire.

Click here to read previous coverage.

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