The old unused flower pot looked like a safe place to put out the cigarette.
The potting soil had no living plant in it, but it did hold a unknown fire hazard.
When TJ Burns put out his cigarette in the abandoned pot Aug. 29 on the deck of his father’s Potassium Street home in Ramsey, he did not know what would happen next.
Around 3:30 a.m., TJ’s wife, Katrina, woke up and spotted a fire on the deck above their room.
“It was a blessing that she woke up or we would not have made it,” said homeowner Tim Burns, TJ’s father.
As the four adults gathered the two young grandchildren from the bedrooms, the fire, which started in the flower pot, smoldered until it reached the deck, then rapidly expanded and burned a large portion of the house.
The problem with potting soil is there is not a lot of dirt in it, said Becki White, deputy state fire marshal.
There is a lot of peat, dried out roots and other components that are used to absorb and hold water, but they can be flammable when dry, she said.
“It is same as putting (the cigarette) into a small bush pile,” White said.
Cigarettes can smolder in the pot until it burns through to a fuel source, like a wood deck, and then begins to burn, White said.
It can take hours for that to happen, long after the cigarette has been put in the pot, she said.
While the State Fire Marshal does not track how many planter fires have occurred, the number seems to be increasing, likely because more people are smoking outside and putting the cigarettes out in the flower pots or in mulch, according to White.
“It is a nationwide issue,” she said.
“The only safe place to put out a cigarette is in water.”
“We had no idea,” said Tim Burns.
That pot could have been burning for a long time without them knowing about it, he said.
“We thought we were doing everything right,” Tim Burns said.
Who would have ever thought there was something flammable in a flower pot, he said.
Once the house is rebuilt, Tim Burns, who does not smoke, plans on filling a steel drum with pure sand for his son to put his cigarette out in.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org