Dare we say it? Is spring finally here to stay?
For many people spring is a time for working in the garden planting flowers, vegetables, and manicuring lawns. But did you know that those pretty flower baskets and pots you purchased from the garden center could actually increase the likelihood of an insurance claim occurring?
Many potted plants that are purchased from stores or garden centers contain little to no actual dirt, and contain other flammable materials such as peat moss, shredded wood or bark. Some potting soil mixtures may also contain fertilizers which can accelerate fires.
Over the last decade in Alberta, peat moss has contributed to a number of major residential fires. The careless disposal of smoker’s material in planters containing peat moss has totaled more than $26,000,000 in damages.
Here are some of the larger losses in recent history:
- Calgary (March 2010) – Fire caused by cigarette left smoldering in a flower pot resulted in one of the largest condo fires in Calgary history. We insured this condo building and the damage to the structure was over $14 million. Approximately 250 were people displaced.
- Edmonton (July 2014) – Fire caused by cigarette left in a flower pot. Over 400 people displaced.
- Edmonton (May 2015) – Fire caused by carelessly disposing of cigarette in flower pot left 155 people displaced.
- Calgary (July 2007) – Planter containing peat moss ignited spontaneously on the balcony of a third floor apartment. The resulting fire caused over $11 million in damage and displaced 100 people.
The majority of these devastating fire losses were started by cigarettes being put out in planters containing peat moss. That, combined with other factors such as proximity to dry plant matter, propane barbeques and wood siding or decking was a recipe for disaster. So what is it about peat moss that makes it so flammable?
Peat has a high carbon content and can burn under low moisture conditions. Once ignited by the presence of a heat source it smolders rather than bursting into flame and can burn down to the base of a container with no more evidence than a thin smoke plume and pungent odor. These smoldering fires burn undetected for very long periods of time.
So how do we prevent these fires?
- Water potted plants regularly. Keeping the soil around your potted plants moist will greatly reduce the risk. Remember the soil in pots dries out quicker than garden beds so plan to water these more frequently
- Consider using clay pots. If a fire does occur, a clay pot will contain the fire better than other pots.
- Smokers should have a safe place to discard smoking material. Sounds pretty obvious but as the statistics above indicate, not everyone takes the time to think about where they are butting out.
- Gardeners should keep planters well watered to reduce flammability, and remove dead plants to lessen the potential for a fire. Planters should not rest on or against flammable surfaces such as wooden decks or siding.
- Stored peat moss should be protected from contact with heat sources.