Oily cloth caused house fire

Spontaneous combustion of an oiled cloth used for home renovations was the cause of a house fire in South Auckland yesterday.

Two fire trucks battled flames at the Papatoetoe home after a neighbour, who had spotted the roof ablaze, phoned 111 about 4am.

Fire safety officer Phil Faidley was yesterday at the Wyllie Rd address determining the cause of the blaze which saw one woman admitted to Middlemore Hospital for smoke inhalation.

He said a discarded cloth that had been used to oil doors spontaneously ignited - something he has seen in six fire investigations in the past two years.

A chemical reaction between natural oils and the fabric resulted in heat, which later ignited the fabric.

"The more the heat builds up the more active the reaction becomes and it gets hotter and hotter and hotter until it gets to the point, probably at about 250C, the rag will ignite."

He said linseed oil had fuelled the Papatoetoe fire.

"There was a lot of cosmetic damage - the fire originated in the laundry where the cloth was stored and the items inside the laundry are all badly damaged.

"There's not a lot of structural damage, but a fair amount of smoke damage throughout the house.

"The owner was renovating so she'll have to go back and start again."

He said the flammability of natural oils was well-known in the DIY industry, but the homeowner was oblivious to the dangers.

Only some oil bottles warned of proper cloth care after the product had been used, he said.

"If you're using these products together, if you're using natural oils to polish wood and do other things, and you get cloths full of these oils, don't just throw them into a corner or into a bag, wash them and dry them and keep them cool.

"Hang them out, but get as much oil out of them as you can."

Faidley now wanted to work with manufacturers, distributors and hardware stores to determine how home renovators could be better informed about the dangers of natural oils.

Auckland Now