Cigarette, potting soil don't mix

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

They thought they were disposing of their cigarettes correctly. But fire officials say they were about five minutes away from learning their lesson in an even crueler manner.

Photo Courtesy Central Emergency Services
Photo Courtesy Central Emergency Services
Central Emergency Services personnel attack a fire on Humecky Circle on Monday.

Late Monday afternoon, Gisela Ollieu's grandson ditched his still-lit cigarette butt into a flowerpot on the porch at Ollieu's double-wide trailer. Then he left the Humecky Circle home, which is about a half-mile down Funny River Road.

Ollieu, 68, was at her son's home in Soldotna, celebrating Father's Day a day late, when she got a phone call about the blaze.

"I was shocked. I couldn't think of why it would be on fire because I always make sure I turn everything off," Ollieu said.

Central Emergency Services heard news of the fire at about 7:15 on Monday evening when a man driving by the trailer on his motorcycle saw the smoke and called it in.

"If it had gone undiscovered for another five minutes, we would have had a raging fire," Gary Hale, CES's fire marshal, said. "It would have burned everything."

Instead, firefighters were able to limit the damage to the wooden deck and to the 50-foot by 20-foot trailer's exterior and underside. Hale estimated the total destruction to be about $3,000. Ollieu was back living in the trailer on Tuesday.

Hale said it's important to remember how the fire started. The flowerpot that Ollieu's grandson put his cigarette in was filled with dry potting soil, containing vermiculite -- a flammable material. The cigarette then lit the pot on fire, which, in turn, ignited the deck and could have resulted in a total loss of the home, according to Hale.

Hale said people should know that potting soil is different than dirt, and cigarettes should not be put out in potting soil. He said the mistake leads to at least one fire per year.

"The message is to properly dispose of cigarette butts into metal cans or some type of container that is not combustible," Hale said.

Ollieu said she learned her lesson.

"I did not realize that potting soil catches fire," she said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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