The person who used a planter as an ashtray outside a Heritage Lane duplex may not even know they were the cause of a devastating fire that left two St. Albert families homeless on Friday.
Fire investigators say a cigarette in a planter outside a duplex caused the $1-million fire that gutted one unit and damaged two others.
St. Albert fire chief Keven Lefebvre said this type of fire is all too common across the province.
Most planters are made mostly out of peat moss and can smoulder for days or weeks before igniting, which means the errant cigarette butt could have been smouldering for a long time before it caught the house on fire.
The St. Albert fire that started around noon was spotted by a passerby who alerted one family who evacuated. A woman in the most seriously damaged unit noticed smoke curling over her ceiling. The woman, a babysitter and a two-year-old boy escaped out the back door before the home was engulfed in flames.
The consequences could have been fatal if the fire had ignited at night when people would have been asleep and less alert to the warning signs.
Although firefighters were on scene quickly, the duplex was fully involved in minutes.
Some people might think that it is safe to drop smoking materials outside during winter when it will be too cold or wet to ignite. This fire proves dropping smoking materials on the ground or in planters is a year-round threat.
It’s common to find peat moss or other flammable materials like Styrofoam pellets, vermiculite or fertilizer in planters near houses or even on decks or balconies. Even dry grass or other landscaping material on the ground can smoulder and then later catch fire.
In 2007 there were four fires in St. Albert that involved smoking materials and planters. Last year there were more than two dozen such fires in Edmonton in one six-month period. Between 2010 and 2017 Edmonton fire losses attributed to improperly disposed-of smoking materials totalled $52.5 million. Despite reports of the risks there have been similar reports in communities across Canada.
Lefebvre urged all smokers to get a proper fireproof receptacle in which to dispose their cigarette butts.
Smokers should heed Lefebvre’s warning. Homeowners should also be alert to make sure any visiting smokers do not inadvertently threaten their safety.
Never throw smoking materials on the ground or in plant pots. They may smoulder away long after you are gone. Dispose of smoking materials in deep dish ashtrays or water, or metal cans filled with sand.
Flicking a cigarette butt to the ground may seem like a harmless action, but it can have unintended, devastating consequences.
The fire in St. Albert on Friday was completely preventable. Every smoker and homeowner should be paying attention and practice good fire safety at all times. No one wants to be responsible for causing a fire that threatens lives or property.