Cigarette started fire that burned five Manassas homes, officials say
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 11:12 PM
A fire that left five houses uninhabitable in Northern Virginia apparently resulted from "improper disposal of smoking materials," authorities said Saturday.
The fire on Tillett Loop, on the outskirts of Manassas, broke out Thursday afternoon and caused an estimated $2.2 million to $2.5 million in damage, said Francis J. Teevan, chief fire marshal for the Manassas fire department.
Three houses were destroyed, two were damaged too badly to be inhabited and three others were also damaged, he said.
The blaze, according to Teevan, was one of the largest residential fires ever in Manassas.
Although nobody saw it start, investigators found the place where it apparently began, Teevan said.
He said a resident of one of the houses that burned often disposed of cigarettes in potted plant containers on his deck. Incompletely extinguished cigarettes may smolder in mulch, leaves or potting soil until a breeze causes ignition, Teevan said.
Teevan said flames apparently spread from a plant container to the vinyl siding of the house. In the view of investigators, Teegan said, the fire was started by a combination of a cigarette with the breeze and siding.
Teevan said a cigarette had apparently been disposed of in the planter about two or three hours before the fire was reported.
That, he said, was not an unusual time lapse for such fires.
Officials around the country have taken note of the role of mulch, potted plants and potting soil in particular in starting fires.
The message essentially appears to be that potting soil is not dirt, and cannot be depended on to snuff out cigarettes that have not been completely extinguished.
A fire safety blog produced by the Montgomery County fire department includes this warning: "Do not use old planter pots that contain potting soil as an ashtray . . . Many mixtures include different types of fertilizers that are oxidizers and will accelerate the rate that a fire will grow."
Teevan said three minor injuries, including one burn, were reported in connection with the Manassas fire.