Spontaneous combustion results in total loss

The owners checked the planning list: invitations were mailed; extra inventory was ordered and in; TV, radio, and newspapers ads were running; signage was delivered and hung; and everything was cleaned to a high shine. The last step was to seal the benches in the courtyard with linseed oil, and they'd be ready for their company's anniversary sale.

Three employees volunteered to finish the wood. They laid cardboard to catch any drips and used rags to work in the oil. When they were done, they rolled the rags up with the cardboard, put both in the garbage, and left for the night.

Spontaneous combustion sounds like sci-fi movie stuff. For this policyholder it was more like horror. While no one was injured, the fire that started in the garbage can that evening quickly spread and turned all their effort, investment, and excitement into a pile of charred rubble.

Dispose of oily rags, other materials properly

Materials that are damp or saturated with oil-based products — rags, clothing, steel wool, cardboard, filters, paint scrapings, etc. — can combust spontaneously. Through an auto-oxidation process, these materials can generate enough heat to start a fire with no flame, spark, or other ignition source.

NEVER dispose of rags, filters, or any material contaminated with an oil-based product in a regular waste container, garbage bag, or dumpster. Increased heat and lack of air circulation can contribute to spontaneous combustion. Instead, soak the contaminated materials with water and place them loosely inside an approved metal container or hand-wash and air-dry them.

ALWAYS consult the product label to identify a spontaneous combustion hazard and proper handling procedures. If a product is not in its original container with the label intact and readable, do not use it.

Products that can self-heat and self-ignite

Any oil-based products can spontaneously combust if handled improperly. Whether you use these products personally or professionally, make sure you follow all manufacturer's recommendations when cleaning or disposing of anything that came into contact with the product. Below are just some of the substances known to combust:

• Linseed oil
• Tung oil
• Pine oil
• Paint with drying oils
• Corn oil
• Cottonseed oil
• Soybean oil
• Menhaden oil
• Cod liver oil

Spontaneous combustion often results in total loss.