HIDDEN DANGERS: HOW HOUSEHOLD RAGS START HOUSEHOLD FIRES

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Most people don’t realize a fire can start without a spark.

It’s the time of year when we do those home improvement projects, we’ve been putting off all year: painting, cleaning, sprucing up the yard. But while you’re busy working on your place, you could accidentally send your entire home up in flames.

Paint thinner, boiled linseed oil, mineral spirits — all commonly used products — are flammable under the right conditions.

Wiping off that thinner onto some rags and throwing them in a pile at the end of the day won’t immediately start a fire, but in a few hours there will be trouble.

Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue demonstrated the clean-up blunder by saturating some rags and tossing them in a cardboard box — just like you may at the end of a do-it-yourself project.

In about four hours, the chemicals in the rags create an environment for spontaneous combustion.

“You finish your project for the day, you placed it in the trash can in the carport or garage, and the next thing you know, your house is on fire,” said Fire Marshal Gene Holcomb.

So while you’re working on other things, or perhaps are in bed, there’s smoke, then a spark, then a full-blown fire. It happens more often than you might think.

“It happens, whether you know about it or not,” Holcomb said. “It’s an instance where the fire occurs and when you discover it, it may be bigger than you can control.”

So how do you avoid disaster? It’s easy.

If you have soiled rags, stuff them in a container, then fill the container with water and put the lid on. You can also hang them in a place where there’s not combustible material, such as outside on a clothesline.

In addition to the shop rags, pay attention to your clothes. Don’t just throw them in the washing machine and forget to turn it on.

Holcomb said you should never, ever put soiled items in your trash can because of the fire potential.

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