Keep Cigarette Butts out of Planters

Homeowner reminded that flower pots are not safe ashtrays

The local fire department in an Alberta town was called to the scene of an exterior house fire. A fire had originated in a peat moss-filled flower pot on the backyard deck.

A few hours earlier, two residents of the home had extinguished their cigarette butts in a flower pot which had dried out. The pot caught fire and the flames and heat from the flower pot ignited the deck and vinyl siding of the house. The fire spread vertically on the exterior to the attic through the eaves. A neighbour noticed the blaze and alerted the homeowner who then called the fire department. All of the residents escaped unharmed.

Firefighting operations contained the fire damage to approximately one-quarter of the attic. Damage to the house and contents was estimated at $75,000.

There is a surprising trend of accidental fires in Alberta and Canada involving discarded cigarettes and potting soil in planters and flower pots. A number of factors contribute to these fires.

When smoking indoors at work, public places and homes became restricted, many smokers moved outside to smoke. The usual ashtrays haven’t followed behind these smokers who have begun a new habit of disposing cigarette butts in the nearest flowerpot or planter. Potting soil in such containers can have as much as 80% peat moss, a combustible material when dry. This has led to an increase in fire incidents involving discarded cigarettes in planters or flower pots.

When exposed to a fire in a flower pot or planter, vinyl siding on the exterior walls of homes can catch fire and melt out of the way while the tar paper and oriented strand board underneath it catch fire. The flames can then spread quickly, sweeping up the wall and entering the attic space through the eaves leading to a catastrophic fire incident. Wooden decks and other backyard combustible items add additional fuel to the fire.

Outdoor fires often go unnoticed longer than indoor fires, especially at night when no one is present outside and the smoke is not detected as there are no smoke alarms.

Smokers should install deep, wide ashtrays to dispose of butts when smoking outside the home or any other building. A metal can with sand or water are safe and effective in disposing cigarette butts.

For more information on fire safety in Alberta, contact your municipality’s fire or emergency service or the Office of the Fire Commissioner at 1-800-421-6929, email or visit and select Public Education tab.