Letters to the Editor

Safety: Guard against red hot tulips

This is a cautionary tale, for anyone who’s ever set a foil-surrounded bloomed-out pot of tulips (or other flower bulbs) out in the yard and left it there for a couple of months. I live on Central Whidbey, on an unshaded plain.

On Feb. 12, I bought a pot of red tulips, surrounded by red heart-decorated foil, from the stage decorations for the British Boys Choir concert at Coupeville High School. When the petals fell off, I set the pot, still in its foil wrap, in the yard on the edge of a sidewalk, and left it there.

Last Tuesday, I realized that the pot and foil were gone. In their place was ash and blackened tulip bulbs. The bulbs smelled burnt, and a long piece of grass near the ash had been scorched. I had been out of town the previous week, a sunny one with some rain, and the grass had grown by leaps and bounds.

I puzzled about the pile of ash for a while, took photographs, discarded the idea of a flowerpot arsonist, and showed the ash to several friends, one of whom was the wife of a volunteer firefighter. She lifted the burned bulbs (which I had been misguidedly preserving as evidence) and found a piece of burned foil under them. The next day her husband came over and found the melted remains of the red plastic flowerpot as well.

I had thought of spontaneous combustion, and he agreed that it seemed the only explanation, though he had never heard of a burning flowerpot before. Closely packed organic matter, of course, sufficiently damp and insufficiently aerated, generates heat. As a child in the Midwest I had heard of burning haystacks, and a friend here told me of a smoking compost pile she caught in time, after grass clippings had been piled on it.

The foil kept the pot from draining, and the reflective silver inside the foil may have concentrated the morning sun’s rays at a time when the pot’s contents were highly combustible. (Where it was sitting, the pot had eastern but not southern sun exposure.) I remembered a minor car fire from my childhood, when a magnifying glass left on the ledge behind the back seat set fire to the interior roof upholstery of our 1940 Dodge.

The tulip fire must have been very hot and very fierce for the short time it lasted. I was fortunate that the grass was wet as well as long. If the fire had spread, the evidence of the flowerpot and foil would probably have been consumed or overlooked.

I have learned that the tulips came from Wal-Mart. I would hate to add anything to the long list of product warnings, but I suggest that anyone who sets such a pot out in the yard at least remove the foil before leaving it there. If anyone else has experienced a combusting flowerpot, I would be interested in hearing about it.

Ann Gerike


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