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Soil And Combustion

  1. Jun 7, 2005 #1
    I had an interesting situation at work. One of the Faculty has a very large plastic planter filled with store bought soil. It has appearantly been sitting outdoors unused for quite some time and has become incredibly dried out with some dry dead plant material still mixed in.
    Yesterday there was smoke wafting up from the soil. Something was definitely burning in there but there were no flames and there wasn't any material directly on top that appeared to be burning. I poured a bottle of water I had near by on it, approximately a liter, and then thought that it may not have been the best idea. The water seemed to boil as it went into the soil and there was a loud hissing noise. After wetting the soil smoke was still coming up from under it.
    I was wondering if it is possible for soil to spontaneously combust if dried out and left to sit in the sun. I understand that there are a number of additives in store bought soil but have no idea what they are or how they would react.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 7, 2005 #2


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    If it was high enough in organic material that was decomposing, I guess that would do it. Have you ever noticed how hot peat feels?
  4. Jun 7, 2005 #3


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    Yep, that's one of the natural ways forest fires can begin too. The combination of the sun and heat from decomposition can be enough to start the dry compost on fire (all the dead, dried plant material burns easily too). Pouring water on it probably didn't make it any worse, just didn't help either. Once you got it wet, it got smokier plus the steam rising from the water.
  5. Jun 7, 2005 #4
    Whoops! I think that might have been one of the bags that was supposed to be delivered here, to us at Area 51.
  6. Jun 7, 2005 #5


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    As I thought about it more, was there any sign of a cigarette in the planter? If it was outside, someone who needed to put out a cigarette before entering the building might have just dumped it in an old, obviously unused planter if no ashtray was nearby and that could have ignited the vegetation in the planter.
  7. Jun 7, 2005 #6


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    Wasn't the "special soil" that we were supposed to get last wednesday?! Call the sargent! That was supposed to feul our all natural aircraft!

    OMG..I told everyone our plans

    oh! area fifty one? nope, don't go there... :uhh:
  8. Jun 7, 2005 #7
    I didn't see one but my boss had already tried putting it out so he may have done something with it if there was one.
    Thank you all. I should probably e-mail the faculty member about this.
  9. Jun 8, 2005 #8


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    Generally I don't make it a habit of feeling guys named Pete, no matter how "hot" they are. :biggrin:
  10. Jun 8, 2005 #9


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    That's what she named your turtle.
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