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Compost Fire

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If you follow composting news (and who doesn't) then you probably heard about several compost fires recently.

There was one burning in Maple Valley, Seattle earlier in the week and another in Saginaw, Michigan yesterday.

Now before you get worried about your kitchen compost crock bursting into flames on your counter top, both of these fires took place at composting facilities. These are really large processing plants that compost for a whole town or city and their piles are probably larger than your house.

Can a compost fire start in a home compost bin? It's probably possible but it's rather unlikely. Some of the factors that cause compost to spontaneously combust are the following:
  • Large Well Insulated Piles
  • Limited Air Flow
  • Dry Pockets in the Pile

What happens is the biological activity in a compost pile generates heat. And if the pile isn't aerated (which is common when the compost pile is bigger than a house) decomposition will be anaerobic. One by-product of anaerobic composting is methane. Now you've got heat and fuel and all you need is for this to happen near a dry pocket of unfinished compost in huge well insulated pile and poof, you've got a compost fire.

This isn't likely to happen in your average home composting set up but it's not a bad idea to give you compost a mix now and then.


Sources: 1, 2

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4 Comments:

  1. Red Icculus said...
    It's the equivalent of leaving oily rags in a bucket in your garage, but on a huge scale. I am not surprised for how hot my tiny compost pile gets.
    Element said...
    I have heard of stories like this but never actually seen a news article on one that actually happened.
    Element said...
    I have heard of stories like this but never actually seen a news article on one that actually happened.
    Heckety said...
    My bro says he goes to visit the compost pile in Kew Gardens sometimes when he fancies a surreal experience, since it smoulders and smokes away to itself. He says there is a sort of aerial walkway you can stand on to watch it and its fascinating!

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