Compost ignition is rare

TUPPER LAKE – A fire that destroyed a home Saturday morning was sparked by something that’s natural but quite rare.

According to Franklin County fire investigators, the fire began when a compost pile, next to a wooden deck attached to the house, spontaneously combusted. No one was injured.

“This is not a common occurrence – it’s almost unheard of, to my knowledge,” said Richard Gast, an educator at Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

But it is possible that composting can cause a fire, Gast said, since heat is what composting is all about.

“When you’re composting, you’re trying to create enough heat to break down the organic material. The heat is what breaks down the compost and turns it into rich, black soil,” Gast said.

As microbial activity within the compost pile increases, so does the pile’s internal heat. If the heat can’t escape, the organic material can spontaneously combust.

“If there’s a lot of insulating material, it increases the likelihood of spontaneous combustion in a pile of organic compounds that are fermenting and releasing heat,” Gast said. “If there’s dry material, microbial activity, limited air exchange, low moisture or poor moisture distribution, it will start to smolder and the temperature will start to rise, and eventually you’ve got a fire.”

Gast added that it is possible for composters to avoid this situation.

“Adequate ventilation of the compost pile to release heat and increase evaporation of water are key to avoiding this kind of problem. Not allowing a pile to become too deep or massive could help, too,” Gast said.

Homeowner Travis LaBarge did not return a phone call left by the Enterprise, but one of his friends, Aimee LaFlamme, said she’s extending a helping hand to him.

LaFlamme, who went to high school with LaBarge, also works with his girlfriend, Laura Cote.

LaFlamme recently organized a bake sale to help the couple get through the aftermath of the fire. It will begin at 9 a.m. at Kinney Drugs on 94 Demars Blvd. in Tupper Lake, and will continue until everything is gone.

LaFlamme said people can donate goods to be sold, and she added that she plans on having at least one 50/50 raffle.

Shaun Kittle can reached at 891-2600 ext. 25 or