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VERIFY | Yes, your flower pot can start a fire

Fire departments warn: in rare instances, the composting process can cause potting soil to self-ignite

WASHINGTON — There’s plenty of good advice on the internet—there’s also lots of bad advice. Our VERIFY team helps determine what’s what, like with a recent viral claim about potted plants.


Can potted plants start a fire?



In rare cases, yes.

This is true.


Take a look at this photo—described as the aftermath of a potted plant spontaneously combusting, leading to all this damage.

Credit: WUSA

This post has been shared about 30,000 times, and the same warning is appearing in other posts across the internet as well.

We used Google Lens to find the photo appears to have originally been posted Aug. 26, on the Facebook page for Russell Springs, Kentucky Fire and Rescue, saying, the fire started in a tomato plant.

It’s not the only such incident fire departments have encountered in the last year. This past spring, the Fair Grove, MO Fire Protection District shared photos after stomping out a smoldering planter pot, burning from the bottom up; in September of 2022, Loudoun County Virginia’s Fire and Rescue fought a barn fire they say started with the spontaneous combustion of a flower box.

RELATED: Students are learning life lessons in the garden at one DC elementary school

So how can this happen?

The departments all say it’s because potting soil is much more than dirt–and when the combination of shredded woods, moss, mulch, and Styrofoam breaks down to compost, it can generate enough heat to self-ignite.

It is rare, but much likelier in hot, sunny, dry conditions.

Our firefighting sources share these tips to avoid becoming that rare case:

  • Water potted plants regularly
  • Use clay pots when possible–they’re better at containing fires
  • Do not use potting soil labeled for “indoor” use, “outdoors;” that indoor-formulated soil can dry out faster
  • Dispose of unused or old potting soil
  • Don’t use a potted plant to try to extinguish flames, like from a cigarette–you could wind up with an even smokier situation

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