Josh and his family moved into their new home as the weather grew summery and pleasant. Anticipating long days outdoors enjoying their lush lawn, Josh spent a Saturday morning tidying up the yard as his dog frolicked nearby. He certainly didn’t expect picking up after his dog’s natural inclinations might ignite a fire that nearly torched his beautiful new residence.

“Homeowners are often shocked that seemingly simple activities can cause devastating effects,” says Jason Blair, Paul Davis Sud-Ouest/Rive Sud, Quebec. ”This was certainly an unusual event – caused by a “perfect storm” of multiple risk factors – that isn’t likely to happen often. Unfortunate as it was, however, it points out risks and suggests precautions that can help others stay safer at home.”

Like most of us taking on yard clean-up, Josh didn’t think twice about tossing collected waste into a temporary trash receptacle: a cardboard carton next to the garage’s exterior wall. He threw in dog droppings and added yard detritus, too: dried grass clippings, tree branches and sticks. Because Josh was a conscientious caretaker who had recently fed his lawn, the waste layered atop a bit of leftover fertilizer. As trash collection day approached, Josh continued to toss dog waste into the handy receptacle. 

Direct, strong summer sunshine heated up the siding and the box next to it. Heat, combined with volatile organic waste in a closed and undisturbed environment created optimal conditions for spontaneous combustion. The contents began to smolder. After several hours, the carton’s hot contents spontaneously erupted into flames. Within minutes, the home’s siding was blazing. Fortunately, the homeowner and his family, including their four-legged family member, were not injured. The house, however, suffered $9,200 in damages. Paul Davis stepped in to work with the insurer to repair the siding and interior areas.

“When disposing of and storing yard waste, leftover gardening and lawn fertilizers, pet waste or other flammable materials, always use a container suitable for the purpose,” Blair cautions. “Use metal rather than polypropylene trash cans, corrugated boxes, or plastic or craft bags. We were honored to help this customer recover from a very unexpected event. But we’re even happier if we can help prevent disasters by passing on smart precautions!”