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Thread: Roots on a tree catching fire?!?!

  1. #1
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    Roots on a tree catching fire?!?!

    Last night several fire trucks came up to my neighbors house. I assumed it was a false alarm, but when they were still there a half hour later I went out to see what was going on. One of them explained that the roots of a 4' pine tree had caught fire. They put it out, but were just spraying everything in the area for good measure. He said he had not seen anything like it in 25 years. This morning I see that there is a row of trees with one missing, and burn marks on a fence next to it.
    It rained Tuesday, so everything was moist.

    Was he putting me on? I mean, tree roots can't spontaneously combust, can they?

    And why is spell check telling me that "combust" isn't a word?

  2. #2
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    Are the gophers playing with matches? There has to be something weird going on. Let us know after you find out more info.
    Steve

  3. #3
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    Are the tree's mulched? That's one possibility for combustion to start if conditions are "ideal"...
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Peterson View Post
    Are the gophers playing with matches? There has to be something weird going on. Let us know after you find out more info.
    Not the Gophers... Mr. Carl Spackler is more likely responsible.

  5. #5
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    Yes, the tree is mulched.
    I have seen large piles of mulch char a bit, but I have never seen any burst into flames.
    This just has dressing, and it was 35 degrees last night; so it seems unlikely.

    I have an email into my neighbor to see what he knows, but they use it as a summer cottage and are getting divorced; so I am not even sure whose house it is anymore. Sad; they just built it last year.

  6. #6
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    Are there any power lines above the tree?

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    Are there any power lines above the tree?

    jtk
    No; underground on the other side of the lot.

  8. #8
    I've heard of roots burning for days after a forest fire. Is it possible he was burning trash or leaves?
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  9. #9
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    My FIL (RIP) burned a dead stump in his yard. After it burned down to ground level, he went back in the house to watch a ball game. A few hours later, a firetruck showed up. The fire had followed a root under a shed that kept all his garden tools, and lawnmowers. He said he needed a new mower anyway, and might as well let Homeowners' Insurance pay for it. The shed had burned down to about the same level as the stump. It was over 20 feet from where the stump was.

  10. #10
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    Lightening? Teenage vandals?

    Reminds me of reports of underground fires in coal seams. I remember one not far from where I grew up in western PA. It apparently set tree roots on fire.

    This one apparently started in 1962 and according to Wiki could possibly burn for 250 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia_mine_fire

    JKJ

  11. #11
    Lightening is a good question. Years ago we were canoeing in Killarney Provincial Park near Sudbury Ontario. We saw smoke coming from shore and paddled over to investigate. We found the smoke was coming from an underground fire at the base of the tree. We investigated further and found a spiral burn mark on the trunk of the tree. It had been hit by lightening a few days earlier and the energy had travelled down the tree and set the soil, which was mainly peat on fire. We spent a good hour pouring water on the fire using our cooking pots before moving on. We stopped at a cottage nearby and told them to keep an eye on it. Later after we had set up camp for the night we heard helicopters near the fire sight. Not sure if they were dumping water on the fire or just monitoring it. So yes a lightening strike can set the roots or peaty soil on fire. Or maybe some gopher carelessly discarded a cigarette butt or a joint.

  12. #12
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    It is leaf season and people around here burn them; but there is is 3' of mulch and then grass where the fire was. The grass wasn't hurt, so I don't think any leaves were burnt in the area.

    I suggested vandalism to my neighbor across the street. He, a long time resident, was deeply offended; there has never been a crime in our town, so vandalism was unthinkable. Besides, it is kinda a stupid vandalism; how would you go about setting tree roots on fire?

    Lightning is interesting. There was a major thunderstorm the day before, and while I wasn't home for it, there must have been lightning. However... the little tree was surrounded by two houses and two big trees. Can lightning skip by those and hit a little tree? (and then cause roots to erupt in flame 30 hours later..)

  13. #13
    Check the trunk for signs of a burnt energy path. In the case of my experience the rest of the tree had no sign of damage.

  14. #14
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    If lightning hit a 4' pine tree, there'd be nothing left but ashes.
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  15. #15
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    Lightning, unpredictable

    Quote Originally Posted by Wade Lippman View Post
    .. Can lightning skip by those and hit a little tree? (and then cause roots to erupt in flame 30 hours later..)
    I've seen and heard of some very strange things with lightning. I've had two trees here hit and severely damaged though closely surrounded by taller trees. I've read stories of lightning hitting the ground and coming up to damage something else not all that close. One report told of multiple people killed when lightning hit a tree than traveled underground to where they were standing away from the tree. I suspect a google search would be interesting.

    JKJ

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