OT: God looks out for fools

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day and I decided to do my biennial application of teak oil to our wood patio furniture. 4 hours later, I put the can of teak oil back on a shelf in the garage. Our garage has a wall between the 2 bays with a window size opening in the wall. I placed the cotton rag I used to apply the teak oil on the opening with the intention of tossing it in the garbage when I put the trash out in a few hours.

Showered and was relaxing a bit, when we heard a beeping. After a moment of disorientation, I got up a smelled a faint odor of smoke. Headed up the stairs towards the beeping alarm and saw smoke. Yes, we freaked out. We immediately headed outside and noticed a lot of smoke coming from the garage and our attic vents. Called 911 (thank goodness for cell phones). 911 said the fire department was on the way and we were left watching smoke pour out of our home and thinking our house was going to burn down.

It seemed like an eternity (actually, more like 2 minutes) before we heard sirens and the first truck showed up. Within another minute there were 3 trucks and about 20 professional and voluntary (bless their souls) fire fighters. Opened the garage and we saw flames, yes, you guessed it, right where I left the rag. Apparently a teak oil soaked cotton rag can spontaneously combust. Boy, do I feel stupid.

They put the flames out quickly and spent the next 2 hours searching to make sure the garage and house was safe.

The firefighters were incredible, communicating with us throughout the ordeal. At one point they asked if there was access to the space above the garage. I said I’d show them where the access was in the house. The fire chief looked at me and said, “No you won’t.” No way they were letting me go in the house until they declared it safe.

Two neighbors down the street who we never met, stopped by to to offer help, including staying in their homes. Our next door neighbor who we are friendly with, we’re about to leave for a short vacation and gave us the code to their house in case we needed to stay there.

Thankfully, the house was safe and we spent the night in our house and immediately contacted our insurance company (they’ve been great) and our electrician (one breaker was tripped).

I never thought I would say there was a fire in our house but I think I’m lucky. But I am lucky.

Lucky that no one was hurt.

Lucky we were home when it happened.

Lucky that physical damage was limited to the garage.

Lucky to have great firefighters, professional AND volunteer.

Lucky to have great neighbors.

Lucky to have smoke detectors.

Lucky to have great insurance.

Lucky that God looks out for fools.


Good to know - I hadn’t ever considered that this was a real possibility. From the article you cite: Despite the testimonials (read “horror stories”) about spontaneous combustion at the end of this article, the fact is it’s a difficult phenomenon to reproduce. I’ve tried to cause it a number of times and have never been able to. But, then again, I believe in lots of things I haven’t personally seen. I think that’s known as “faith”. And trust me… spontaneous combustion is real!

So, while it appears to be a rare phenomenon, it is real and (since I also apply these types of oils on occasion) on my radar for the future.



I’m glad that all turned out well for you.

By coincidence, on the same day as you I treated some old cabinets with a solvent-based stain (Restor-a-finish which works fantastically well). I put the paper towels I used to wipe down the wood into our wood-burning stove in case they spontaneously combusted.



I was able to reproduce it just fine. I was using some oil stain to treat a wood deck. I knew the danger, but it was going to be some time before I could deal with the rags properly, so I left the oily rags in a loose pile, spread out a bit, on a concrete patio. My thinking that was safer than leaving them in a tight pile or in an open bucket and I’d be back to deal with them before too long.

I came back a few hours later and the rags were literally smoking. I have no doubt they would have caught fire in just a few more minutes. Now oily rags go straight into a bucket of water, no waiting.


^ This one. It is a cliche’, but you can replace your stuff, but you can’t replace you. Glad everyone made it out okay.


I’m five doors done in a ten door replacement project, some teak oil, some oil stain, some paint. After each application the stain rag goes straight into the metal garbage can:


I have two of them, one for the room where I’m doing the staining and another for the workshop because I sometimes absentmindedly walk into the shop with the rag. I’ve never have an issue but I’ve read stories like yours, and yikes!


Standard practice in woodworking and marine industry (fiberglass bonding and combustible resin sources) is to submerge in a metal bucket or barrel of water.

At my previous company, ALL of our waste, including mixed containers is either placed loosely in an outdoors concrete area inside a 20’ cleared circle OR submerged into a water barrel.

These water barrels are located right next to every trashcan. Each bucket has a strainer in the bottom. Procedure is to pull the strainer up with any contents every morning, this gives the process time to complete in a safe location.

In spite of this we still have fires on location. Mostly due to saw dust in yet another dangerous waste collection activity. (dust collection systems are a bear with continuous use)


After the fire chief told me they see this type of fire more than you would think (and that the patio furniture looked great), he gave me the advice about putting the rag in a bucket of water.

Live and learn.