'Spontaneous combustion' burns down two homes

'Spontaneous combustion' burns down two homes »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland fire investigators are blaming two house fires in two weeks on spontaneous combustion.

They said that Wednesday's fire on Southeast 60th Avenue and a July 7 fire on Northwest Luray Terrace were both caused in the same way. Together these two fires caused $970,000 in loss to the homeowners.

The Southeast fire, at the 2300 block of 60th Avenue fire, took place yesterday. The American Red Cross' Oregon Trail Chapter was on the scene to provide casework, food and lodging. The family of two adults and one child will receive two nights lodging via the Red Cross. However, fire investigators report that the home is 90 percent lost.

The Northwest fire caused a sensation July 7 when the homeowner, trapped inside and surrounded by smoke, jumped 40 feet to the ground from an upstairs window. (See KATU's "House fire forces man to leap to safety.")

Keeping spontaneous combustion at bay

Summer represents peak months for home improvement projects such as painting and staining decks, furniture and fences in the Pacific Northwest.

According to a statement Thursday from Portland Fire & Rescue, "what people don't understand is that there is real danger in not following the manufacturer's recommendations when using oil-based products for any project at work or at home."

Spontaneous combustion is caused by the breakdown of the oils in paints, stains, and other products. This breakdown generates heat and if that heat is contained it will build up to temperatures sufficient to ignite easily -burnable items such as wood, rags or paper. This process of building up enough heat to start a fire can take days or just a few hours.

There are two recommended ways to dispose of any rag contaminated with oil or an oil-based product. The first is to spread them out in a single layer and allow them to dry completely for several days before disposal. The second is to put the rags in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid in a shaded area with good ventilation.

Portland Fire & Rescue urges citizens to read the entire label on the products purchased for home renovations and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Many products have the potential to cause spontaneous combustion, asphyxiation or even explosions.

 - Some information courtesy of Portland Fire & Rescue