Chief’s Corner: Oily rags can start fires |

Chief’s Corner: Oily rags can start fires

Bill Seline
Chief’s Corner

Many people are taking advantage of the great weather to put a fresh coat of oil or stain on their homes and decks.

It is common to use rags to wipe up spills, but wet rags can start fires if not handled carefully.

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that, on average, 800 home fires are started each year from oily rags, and the Truckee-Tahoe region is no exception.

How can oily rags start a fire?

The oils commonly used in oil-based paints and stains release heat as they dry. If the heat is not released in the air, it builds up. That is why a pile of oily rags can be dangerous. As the rags dry, the heat is trapped and will spontaneously combust, starting a fire.

However, this does not happen with water-based finishes.

Rags with wet paint and stain

• Never leave wet oily rags in a pile. At the end of the day, take the rags outside to dry.

• Hang the rags outside or spread them on the ground. Make sure they are not in a pile.

• Keep them away from buildings.

• Put dried rags in a metal container. Make sure the cover is tight. Fill the container with a water and detergent solution. This will break down the oils.

• Keep containers of oily rags in a cool place. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Keep them away from other heat sources.

• Don’t throw the rags in the trash, as they will start a fire. Wet oily rags are considered Haz Mat, and require that you make an appointment to drop them off at the Eastern Regional Transfer Station by calling 583-7800

Bill Seline is the Fire Chief at the Truckee Fire Protection District.