Third fire in recent months caused by poor disposal of wood ash

Fire officials are getting more than a little anxious about the number of recent fires in town sparked by improperly stored wood-burning stove ashes.

The city of Milford had another near miss on Monday, Jan. 20, caused by the inappropriate disposal of ashes from a wood-burning stove, said Fire Department spokesman Greg Carman.

“A resident at 26 Franklin Street placed ashes from a fire the night before into a plastic bucket and then put it in the garage that morning,” Carman said. “Shortly after noontime, the resident arrived home to find light smoke in the garage and called 911. Firefighters found the smoldering bucket and removed it to the outside, where it was extinguished. No injuries or damage were caused at this incident, but the Milford Fire Department is encouraging the public to educate themselves on the proper disposal of wood-fire ashes.”

The first ash-caused fire in Milford occurred in December, when 50% of a home was destroyed.

Two weeks ago, ashes sparked another fire, damaging a deck and siding.

No one was injured in the fires, but one resident was taken to the hospital for evaluation due to smoke inhalation.

In Stamford in 2011, a Christmas Day fire believed to have been sparked by smoldering embers killed three young girls and their grandparents. Fire officials say they thought ember fires would have gone down following that tragedy, but Carman said statistics show they have not declined.

“In Connecticut alone, we are seeing a rise in fires caused by hot embers and ash, from 269 in 2011 to 369 in 2012,” Carman said. “The Milford Fire Department is strongly urging all residents to re-educate themselves to the dangers of and the safety procedures for the use of woodstoves and fireplaces.”

Carman made the following recommendations:

Never empty ashes into a paper or plastic bag, cardboard box, or other similar container.

The only suitable means for ash storage is a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.

For optimum safety, wet the wood ashes prior to attaching the metal lid to the pail.

Do not store your metal ash container on your deck, in your garage, or in any location that may allow heat to transfer from those hot coals to nearby flammable items.

Wood ash, once completely cooled, can safely be disposed of in a garden because natural firewood ash makes a great soil additive that plants enjoy.

“Just make sure you have removed any mulching materials such as dried leaves and other dried plants first, so there’s nothing to catch fire in your garden,” Carman said.