AFD warns rags soaked in oil are spontaneously combusting in heat, starting fires

The Austin Fire Department says it has seen a concerning trend this month of household items spontaneously combusting and starting fires.

"The fact that we have these high temperatures that we've been experiencing over the last, I don't know, 30 to 40 days, and our humidity is so low that the conditions are just right for these spontaneous combustions," said Pete Constantine, a battalion chief with the Austin Fire Department.

The culprit: rags soaked in oil or other ignitable liquids.

Austin fire officials said they typically see about one or two cases a year, but in just August alone, they’ve responded to four.

"As these products heat up, they start producing fumes," said Constantine. "We call it the ignition temperature of the product, and as hot as it is outside right now, these temperatures reach the ignition temperature real quick."

Fire officials said some of the oils posing a fire hazard are motor oils, cooking oils, stain remover, and even transmission fluid.

"As oil rags start to heat up, they start producing heat," said Constantine. "They get the oxygen from the air, and now we have all the materials we need for a fire."

They can become most dangerous when they aren't put away properly.

"What we've seen are people throwing these rags in their trash, plastic garbage cans, just leave them out next to a pile of leaves or up against the house," said Constantine.


The Austin Fire Department said to put the oil-soaked rags in an airtight can without other combustible materials like leaves, and paper or other chemicals inside.

"Anything that we can keep the air from reaching these materials," said Constantine. "A metal trash can with a tight sealing lid would be fine."

When in doubt, check the oil's can.

Fire officials said most of them have handling instructions.

"As hot as it is, as dry as it is, we all need to kind of step back and make sure we're doing things right."

In addition, the Austin Fire Department said there are a few other important fire precautions people should take right now, including not throwing cigarettes out of a car or into the grass, making sure loose chains aren’t dragging on the ground while driving, and keep a fire extinguisher or source of water nearby when working with fire.