Whenever you burn any type of solid fuel (wood, coal or pellets), you will inevitably be left with ashes that need to be removed and disposed of. These ashes must be removed periodically so as to prevent them from affecting the overall performance and durability of your unit. The frequency of the ash removal will depend on the product itself as well as the type of fuel being burned. We urge you to continue reading to learn more about this ever-present danger.
Transporting and Starting Fires Throughout History
Man has been capable of transporting fire from place to place for a very long time. Ancient man transported fire from one location to another by wrapping hot coals that were insulated by ashes in animal skins. Once he arrived at his new home site, rekindling the fire was a simple task; he removed the coal, which was still hot, and placed it on a small pile of leaves and twigs. He then blew on the coal and restarted the fire. Believe it or not, boy scouts are still taught to start fires this way today. Unfortunately, many accidental fires are also started in a similar fashion.
The Dangers of Improper Ash Removal
Improper ash removal from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves causes thousands of fires every year. According to the NFPA, almost 10,000 fires are caused yearly due to improperly removing and discarding ashes. Hot coals that are inadvertently hidden in a pile of ashes can stay hot for up to four days, as the ash acts as an insulator that keeps the coals from burning out. All one of these coals needs to flare up again is the addition of more oxygen to the equation. It is for this very reason that fire departments have been known to return to the scene of a structure fire to spray more water on smoldering timbers and/or newly-flared coals.
Ash Containers 101
As a general rule of thumb never empty ashes into a paper or plastic bag, cardboard box, or other similar container. The proper container for ash storage is one that is made of metal that has a tight-fitting lid, as this helps prevent air from blowing through and disturbing the ashes, which can thereby leave hot coals exposed for easy re-ignition. For optimum safety, it is recommended that homeowners wet the wood ashes prior to attaching the metal lid to the pail. As another safety precaution, never store your metal ash container on your deck, in your garage, or in any location that may allow the heat inside to transfer from those hot coals to nearby flammable items. Innumerable wooden decks catch fire every year because of this one simple oversight. As an alternative, place the container on a non-combustible surface that is made of stone, concrete, brick, or slate.
For those of you with a green thumb, once completely cooled, wood ash can be safely disposed of in your garden, as it makes a great soil additive that your plants will 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 just in case there was a hidden coal that’s still hot. You can then spray the dispersed ashes with water as an added safety precaution. For additional information on this and many other topics, contact Clean Sweep of Anne Arundel County and let any of our professionals help you today.