Meier Fire Blog

You See Ashes… At Meier Fire, We See Answers

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Dumpster Fires.

What is a fire investigator supposed to do when you return from the winter holidays to find your office park dumpster has had a fire?

Make a video and turn it into a teaching moment.


You might think, “hmm” what’s there to learn about burning trash?

Let’s start with common courtesy… It’s just plain rude (not mention illegal) to dump your trash in a random dumpster.  Businesses or communities pay for the use of that dumpster – when you fill it up, you are essentially stealing from whomever is paying for the dumpster.  Plus, now there’s all kinds of unknown fuels in the dumpster that can’t be inferred from the surrounding users.  A dumpster’s contents are almost always a mix of unknown materials.  They may contain a mix of items from difference sources that by themselves are harmless but when combine could cause a dangerous fire or explosion.

This makes dumpster fires are more dangerous than you think.

In 2009, one fire fighter, in Wisconsin, died and others were injured when unknown substances in the dumpster they were extinguishing exploded.[1]

Common Causes of dumpster fires include:

Spontaneous combustion: Painting materials, some cleaning materials and oil soaked rags can spontaneously catch fire.  The chemical nature of these substances means they can begin oxidizing on their own, creating heat, which can eventually ignite the rags, surrounding materials and the dumpster.  Mulched yard waste an compost may also spontaneously combust in dumpsters.

Arson: We believe our New Year’s Eve dumpster fire was intentionally set.  There were signs that someone had been in the enclosure while businesses were closed.  Luckily the fire department responded to our fire and extinguished it before it ignited the adjacent oak tree and nearby buildings and vehicles.

Accidents: Do not dispose of cigarettes, matches or the remains of barbecues or campfires in dumpsters.  If you must dispose of ashes in a dumpster – hold them in a separate container for 48-72 hours – to make sure they are fully extinguished and cooled.

A good rule of thumb is if you would not put it in your household trash – it should not go in a dumpster either.  Please consult your local trash company or county government for the proper and authorized methods to dispose of hazardous chemicals.

DID YOU KNOW THAT IN 2018 the phrase “Dumpster Fire” was added to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary and defined as “An utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence.”?


Quick Tips to prevent Dumpster Fires

  1. It’s illegal to use a dumpster that you do not pay for.
  2. Don’t put ashes, cigarettes or hazardous chemicals in a dumpster.
  3. Do not dispose of compostable yard waste in dumpsters. Spontaneous combustion can occur.
  4. The smoke from a dumpster fire can be toxic.
  5. If you see a dumpster fire, call 911, do not try to fight it yourself.
  6. Keep dumpster area locked to prevent unauthorized access and dumping.
  7. There were and estimated 174,500 dumpster fires in the US in 2017.[2] That’s almost 500 fires a day and more than the number of highway vehicle fires (168,000.)




Video Credits:

Video copyright 2019 Christine Meier

Music by I’M ON FIRE by Loyalty Freak Music via Free Music Archive. 

Smoke by  Krish and Chris from the Noun Project, Flames by Viktor Fedyuk (Tim P) from the Noun Project

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