Oily rags at the center of recent spontaneous fire at museum

Blog Post created by lisabraxton Employee on Mar 7, 2017

Cover image of Educational Messages Desk ReferenceA recent three-alarm fire that damaged the State Police Museum & Learning Center in Grafton, Massachusetts, broke out spontaneously when rags and sawdust tossed together in a plastic bag heated up and ignited, the state fire marshal said.

According to the Boston Globe, workers were refinishing wooden molding in the museum and as they completed their work for the day they put rags with stain on them into plastic trash bags along with sawdust accumulated during the project. Over the next few hours, the rags began to dry out, producing heat that ignited the sawdust, State Fire Marshal Peter. J. Ostroskey said in a statement. He said the fire was caused by the spontaneous combustion of oily rags.

“As flammable oil from rags dry out, they produce heat that can start a fire like this one which is why it is important to dispose of oily rags properly,” Ostroskey said. “When balled up with combustibles like sawdust, a fire can quickly start.’’

NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference, which provides nationally recognized, consistent fire and life safety messages, includes a chapter on flammable and combustible liquids that has messaging on the topic of oily rags and related matters.

  • Store oily and solvent-wet rags in a tightly sealed metal container or hang outside to dry and then discard them.
  • If you spill a flammable liquid on your clothing, place the clothing outside to dry before laundering.
  • Keep oil-based paints and flammable and combustible solvents in their original containers and tightly capped–never in breakable glass containers.

The museum blaze was concentrated in the second floor meeting room where the restoration work was underway, officials said. The museum’s exhibits and galleries, which are on the first floor of the building, sustained only smoke and water damage.