News

Compost set Willow Road house on fire

Investigation of fire that displaced family finished

It was the compost that set a Willow Road house in Menlo Park on fire March 6, displacing a family of four for at least a year, investigators concluded.

The fire started in a compost pile lying next to the house and near an attic vent, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said on Wednesday (May 9).

A recent tree trimming cleared the way for more sunlight to hit the pile, accelerating decomposition and creating enough heat to start a blaze, according to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. The fire entered the house through the vent and possibly a side wall air-conditioning unit.

The fire ruined portions of the home at 52 Willow Road, which had been remodeled six months earlier. No one was hurt, but a family of four, along with two visiting grandparents, are living elsewhere for an indefinite time until repair of the approximately $310,000 in damages wraps up.

Neighbors living next door were temporarily forced out of their own home thanks to smoke damage, the district said. While firefighters focused on protecting the neighbor's home, which has a "highly flammable" wood-shingled roof, open windows let smoke stream inside, the district reported.

The morning of the fire, neighbors reported hearing a "boom" shortly before 11 a.m. and seeing flames leap from a front corner of the home. Firefighters arrived on the scene about two minutes after the 911 call.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charlie
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Blame it on overactive bacteria.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Compost doesn't burn
a resident of James Flood Magnet School
on May 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

Compost piles rarely go over 130 degrees, must be the correct mix of 'brown and green' (nitrogen and carbon materials) and only then with adequate moisture (a really good pile will steam when turned, in winter.)

If it wasn't moist, one has to ask how often a pile of dry leaves combusts spontaneously in our area.

A 'boom'?

Never heard of a boom from a pile.

Bordering on the absurd.

Should report this, it's a first.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Compost doesnt burn:

really? Not according to this: Web Link

from the link: "Haystacks, COMPOST PILES and unprocessed cotton may self-ignite because of heat produced by bacterial fermentation."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Compost doesn't burn
a resident of James Flood Magnet School
on May 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm

From the link: " Avoid large piles - no greater than 12 feet high." They're clearly talking large agricultural sites and piles.

Web Link

# Monitor your organic material for hotspots - high temperature (76 to 80°C), vents, smoke or burnt smell.
# Ensure temperature monitoring equipment can reach the centre of the piles.
# Ensure adequate ventilation and moisture content (above 40%) of pile to release heat.

Granted, I don't have experience with piles that large, only locally with many compost piles at a residential level. And NEVER saw one smolder.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

More information on Compost piles frire prevention: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Compost doesn't burn
a resident of James Flood Magnet School
on May 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Any thing about hearing "boom" form a compost heap?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm

"Any thing about hearing "boom" form a compost heap?"

Not that I've seen so far, but in my experience, witness statements are notoriously inaccurate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Obviously
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Many of you have yet to experience the horrendous sounds made by an exploding overripe carrot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Old MacDonald
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

never ever considered a residential compost heap going up in flames

if it's too dry, it's just a bunch of leaves

too damp, no ignition

just right moisture, it becomes compost (dirt) and ain't gonna burn

large farm ops have windrows, etc. that are a different animal altogether (often includes animal products)


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