Oily Rags Caused Two-Alarm Ashburn House Fire

The Loudoun County Fire Marshal’s Office has determined that a fire that destroyed two Ashburn homes and damaged two more began when

improperly-disposed oily rags spontaneously combusted.

Oily rags can slowly heat up as the oil oxidizes, possibly eventually reaching their ignition point and catching fire. In the case of the fire on July 31 in Ashburn, that resulted in estimated the total damages of $1.5 million, including the four homes originally reported and an additional four homes that received minor damages.

According to the Fire Marshal’s Office, oil-based paints and other common, volatile household products like paints, stains, teak oil, linseed oil, varnishes, polyurethane, and paint thinners can pose a safety hazard.

The Fire Marshal’s Office also released safety tips for safely disposing of oil- or gas-soaked rags, beginning with maintaining a clean work area to prevent a fire from spreading.

To properly and safely dispose of oil- or gas-soaked rags:

  • Spread rags in a single layer, flat on the ground/driveway or hang them in a safe area away from combustibles, so heat dissipates while the material cures.
  • An oily rag has cured when it becomes hard and brittle. The time it takes to cure can vary considerably depending on humidity, temperature, and the finish.
  • Place dried rags in an airtight metal container with a tight-fitting lid and cover with water and an oil breakdown detergent.This will prevent the oils from oxidizing, keeping the rags from heating up and igniting.A metal bin with water is a temporary solution until the rags may be properly removed from the site. Don’t add any other combustible material.

At 3:24 a.m. on July 31, the Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System responded to a reported house fire at 20238 Millstead Drive in Ashburn. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found two homes with significant fire showing.

Crews immediately searched for occupants and began an aggressive fire attack on the two homes, also working to protect the neighboring homes.

The home where the fire began was unoccupied at the time of the incident and the residents of the other three homes affected were out of the area. One firefighter was treated for a minor burn injury and there were no civilian injuries reported.

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