Shed bursts into flames
Randy Barton and his two young sons on a recent evening unexpectedly had a visitor at the door of the Woodside Avenue house where they live.
The person outside, a neighbor, told them that smoke was billowing from their house, Barton recalls on Monday, four days after a nearby shed was damaged in the fire. Investigators say rags drenched with oily stain inside the shed spontaneously combusted, causing the fire.
Barton, a concert promoter and media personality, says he and his sons, who are two and four years old, rushed out of the house, which was not on fire, and watched as the firefighters promptly extinguished the blaze in the shed.
"We exited the house quickly, me and the two little guys," says Barton, whose house, which he rents, was not damaged. "The fire was raging. You could see the flames inside the shed. Lots of smoke, lots of fire."
The authorities were called to the fire, on the 1100 block of Woodside Avenue, at 9:41 p.m. on Thursday. Tricia Hurd, the spokeswoman for the Park City Fire District, reports that it was extinguished within 10 minutes using foam and water. She describes the blaze as a "relatively minor fire."
But the fire, which the property’s owner, David Belz, estimates caused between $5,000 and $10,000 in damage, is significant as it highlights the dangers of storing dangerous, combustible materials that are widely used in the construction trade.
Fires caused by spontaneous combustion are rare but others have been reported in Park City, says Ron Ivie, City Hall’s chief building official, who investigated the fire.
Ivie reports that a person hired to put another coating of stain on the shed finished for the day and left the rags he used inside. Belz says that the worker wadded up the rags and then wrapped them in other rags he was using.
The rags then burst into flames, they say, explaining that the stain spontaneously combusted. Belz says that the worker stopped for the day at about 4:30 p.m.
"We need to be especially mindful," Belz says, adding that lots of people erroneously consider spontaneous combustion an "urban myth."
Belz says lawn-care equipment, heavy-duty electrical cable, hardwood material and chainsaws were destroyed in the fire. He says that he did not store gas or other fuels in the shed.
"God forbid there had been a propane tank in there," Belz says.
He says he plans to repair the shed and install fire and smoke detectors during the repairs.
Ivie says there have been between 15 and 20 fires caused by spontaneous combustion since he was appointed the chief building official in the 1980s. Seven condominiums were destroyed in one such fire in Silver Lake about 10 years ago, Ivie says. There have been at least three fires caused by spontaneous combustion this summer, according to Ivie.
"Spontaneous-combustion fires, especially with these oil stains, are much more common than people think," Ivie says, adding he remembers someone perishing in such a fire in the 1970s in the Salt Lake Valley. "It’s a serious thing. I’ve actually seen people die."
Ivie explains that material spontaneously combusts through a chain reaction. Sometimes in the construction industry, like in the case on Woodside Avenue, oil-based stains are used on cloth made of material susceptible to fires, he says.
He says he questioned the worker blamed in the fire and expects to decide whether to bring charges against the person within a week. Ivie declines to identify the person.
Ivie says he sometimes prefers that construction workers are taught about the dangers of spontaneous combustion rather than being prosecuted and says he is considering speaking to a group of workers if he can draw a big enough crowd.
"Right now, my inclination is to train them," Ivie says.
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The Park City Ice Arena is expected to temporarily close later in 2021 to allow crews to replace the ice surface and perform other maintenance work, one of a series of projects City Hall plans to outline at an upcoming open house. It will be an in-person event.