Compost Fire

nrsninnie(z8 Texas)November 20, 2005

I am not sure that I am putting the post in the best spot, but we had some excitment this evening. Our next door neighbors came to the door and said there was a fire outside our house. My first thought was that maybe there was a fire in the eaves or something, so we all went running out front and the neighbor pointed to the backyard - there in the corner of the backyard where I have a compost pile of sorts was a nice blaze going! So, now I am wondering about the possibilty of a compost pile spontaneously combusting. Anyone have any ideas on that? To describe our weather conditions lately, which makes me think that was not the problem, it is very dry in Texas right now. It is cool - 45 degrees out this evening, and only got up to 64 for the high today. It was very windy, but has calmed down this evening. Help me out here - I may have to do away with the compost pile if this is a possibility - can't have the fire trucks coming here too often.

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In dry weather if the compost pile gets a lot of sun ..its possible to combust..if its not turned atleast once a week..even when outside temps are low. my greenhouse in 45 degrees in 80+ with no heat source and dappled shade

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 10:37AM
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There is a Soil and Compost forum on GW. I'd ask over there too.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 12:32PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I think that basic safety rules call for some of the following steps: don't make a huge pile of compost, keep it well distributed by turning and churning it routinely, and maintain even moisture throughout the pile.

If you stir up the pile every once in a while, you will allow the built up heat to dissipate.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 1:53PM
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The best compost is made when there is a lot of moisture in the decomposing stuff. So, spraying it with the hose a couple times a week will keep it like a sponge - moist but not soggy, and not at all dry enough to combust.

I know it is not really funny and could have had serious consequences, but I think it is hilarious that we all try to get a good "hot" compost and you won!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 11:55AM
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If conditions are right, it will spontaneously combust. A few years ago a construction crew cut down a pine grove and ground the logs into chips to build a Home Depot. There was a mountain of pine chips and debris. That was in July. In early October, when the mornings were cool, the pile would steam and smoke. One evening as I drove by going home, it was really smoking and you could smell the definitive odor of burning pine. The next morning it was burning with an open flame.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 12:16AM
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gurley157fs(zone 7/8sc)

Your compost pile did not ignite from being dry. As was mentioned above it needs to be turned to disapate heat.

The same can happen with hay that is too green when put up(the green hay is high in moisture). As it starts to decompose the heat builds up and will get so hot that it will eventually ignite - cause of many a barn fire.

It sounds as if you have a good pile going - just need to turn it more often.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 3:10AM
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nrsninnie(z8 Texas)

Thank you all for your comments. I guess I have just gotten lesson 101 in composting! I have to say that I have been very careless in the composting area. It is a place where we try to help ease the landfill a bit by putting grass clippings and leaves. I also dump kitchen scraps, like potato peelings and lettuce leaves - stuff of that nature. I haven't really done much more than that, and we have had that compost pile for probably close to 10 years. Last winter my husband and I dug down to the bottom and got out a lot of good composted soil to top dress the garden, and there is a definite reason for calling it "black gold"! It was just beautiful to handle and work with! But, as far as turning it or anything like that, it is rather hard to get to, so it just sits. I guess if nothing else, I need to make sure I keep water on it in the future, especially after prolonged dry periods like what we have had recently. On the plus side, we did get about an inch of rain the other morning. Now we only need about 6 more to get us back to our yearly rainfall average! Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 9:08AM
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