One death and property damage of more than a quarter of a million dollars have resulted in the last two weeks from fires that started when fireplace ashes were placed in combustible containers.
The death of 13-year-old Schwanda Holloway occurred in Prince George's County Dec. 18 when fireplace ashes stored in a paper bag near a basement hearth ignited in her Oxon Hill home. She died of smoke inhalation.
Five other fires that had similar origins were reported in Fairfax County, prompting officials there to issue a warning:
"Just because there is no smoke doesn't mean that the heat has dissipated," said Charles Rose, public education officer for the Fairfax County Fire Department.
"Unfortunately, most people arbitrarily assume that the ashes are out the day after the fireplace was used," Rose said. "Depending on the circumstances, those ashes can still ignite up to 72 hours after the last smoke is seen."
In each of the Fairfax fires -- which resulted in damages totaling $268,000 -- ashes had been removed to prevent their buildup in fireplaces. Many homeowners also routinely remove and save the ashes to spread in their gardens to provide nutrients for broad-leaf evergreens, such as azaleas, in the winter months.
In the worst Fairfax blaze, a fire that started in a plastic trash can raced through a garage and spread to a home at 10509 Acacia Lane on Christmas Day. The blaze destroyed two cars and caused $134,000 in damage, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Services official Stephanie Hoover said.
On Christmas Eve, a fire quickly spread through the first and second stories of a McLean town house when ashes stored in a plastic trash can burst into flame in the home's utility room, Hoover said.Damage was estimated at $110,000.
That fire spread to an adjacent town house, causing another $4,000 in damage.
In a second Christmas Day fire, more than $20,000 in damage resulted when residents of a home in Herndon stored ashes in a cardboard box in their garage. The blaze spread through the ceiling into the attic, Hoover said.
"We're trying to stress the fact there are a lot of new wood stove and fireplace owners during this holiday season that aren't aware of how their ashes should be disposed of," Hoover said. Rose added, "Last year the problem was froim people trying to accelerate fireplace fires with flammable liquids."
Both Hoover and Rose said that proper disposal would be to douse the ashes with water, then store them in metal containers outside the home.