Ashland is facing $1,300 in cleanup costs after oil-soaked rags start fire after training

The city of Ashland is facing about $1,300 in cleanup costs after oil-soaked rags used by Ashland Fire & Rescue in a training exercise spontaneously combusted.

In February, firefighters were doing training with a smoke machine that uses mineral oil in The Grove, a city-owned building on East Main Street often used for community classes.

They had put rags in front of the machine to catch any residual mineral oil, then spread the rags out to air after the training. Somebody, perhaps a member of The Grove's janitorial crew, picked up the rags and put them in a cabinet, Fire Chief John Karns said.

Oil-soaked rags in confined spaces can begin to oxidize and reach temperatures where they spontaneously combust. The rags charred and produced smoke, but not flames, Karns said.

Firefighters responded to a call about smoke at The Grove on Feb. 18.

Medford-based ServiceMaster finished cleaning up the smoke damage in a back corner meeting room of The Grove late last week, said Ashland Maintenance and Safety Supervisor Mike Morrison Jr.

The company, which specializes in cleaning up fire- and water-damaged property, took steps that included cleaning and deodorizing the carpet and repainting cabinets to seal in odors. The city has yet to get final invoices for the work, but estimated costs are $1,300, Morrison said.

Karns said that spontaneous combustion — or ignition without an ignition source — can occur in compost, hay and manure piles, and when items are soaked by linseed oil and some mineral oils.

Karns said oil-soaked rags shouldn't be placed in piles or put into contact with combustible material such as trash or paper. Rags can be spread out to dry outside with relative safety.

To avoid compost pile fires, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors recommends following these tips:

  • Make sure the compost pile has adequate ventilation to reduce heat.
  • Do not turn a pile that is smoldering as the sudden infusion of oxygen can cause the pile to burst into flames.
  • Do not let the pile get too dry or reach temperatures above 160 degrees. To reduce temperatures in an overheated compost pile, reduce its size, add water and mix in course material such as wood chips.
  • Never put a compost pile next to a house, building or other flammable structure.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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