RAMSEY, Minn. (WCCO) — Back in late August, a cigarette that had been put out in a planter containing peat moss was all it took to set a Ramsey home on fire. Luckily, all six family members got out of the home alive.

“We had no idea of the hidden danger,” said Ramsey homeowner, Debra Burns.

Coming back to her Ramsey home, one month later, Burns recalls vividly the sheer terror felt in the early morning hours of Aug. 29.

“My daughter-in-law was sleeping in the basement bedroom with my son and their 1-year-old and she noticed something outside, like maybe someone was starting a bonfire,” Burns said.

What they smelled was the family deck on fire — quickly spreading to the rest of the house. Less than 24 hours prior, Burns’ son had used a potted plant on the deck for an ashtray. There was no plant growing in the large container so he assumed the dirt was the safest place to extinguish the cigarette.

“We thought it was just dirt in there,” said Burns. “There was no plant at the time and apparently there was more than dirt — there was peat.”

Ken Prillamin is the Brooklyn Park Fire Chief.

“Peat moss is very capable of burning,” said Prillamin.

Prillamin added that the dirt-like planting material is notorious for starting fires because its airy and organic material will burn like coal. Fire experts say that peat moss can be ignited just as easily by a cigarette as can tinder dry leaves.

“Peat moss in a planter is not much different from dry vegetation and this time of year it has the same potential for drying out,” said Prillamin.

For Burns and her family, now begins the long process of rebuilding what had been their home. They are a little wiser to the dangers of peat moss and want to spread the message to prevent other families from the same fate.

“We’ll have a more appropriate container for cigarette butts and now realize that a flower pot isn’t the best place,” Debra said.

Burns said her daughter-in-law even poured some water over the dried peat the previous morning. However, even damp peat is capable of burning and the bogs where it comes from can be nearly impossible to put out, according to Prillamin.

Bill Hudson


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