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Smoke from Building Fire

Posted by Sunny_Dee 6a KCMO (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 30, 12 at 14:19

Unfortunately, Thursday night, an industrial building behind our house caught fire and burned to the ground. During the fire, a lot of smoke billowed into our yard and engulfed my organic 1000 sq ft garden.

I spoke with someone from the fire dept who said that the building did have water soluble chemicals and heavy metal chemicals in it that were burned up. He said that a specialist told him that the chemicals should *not* have traveled in the smoke and contaminated my crops.

However, I'm scared that my organic garden is ruined. I looked through out the garden for signs of residue or if the plants were acting adversely. Everything "looks" really good. I also sprayed ALL of the plants with tons of water to rinse them.

Do you think my garden is a total loss? Has anyone dealt with something like this before? Should I give samples to the extension service to test? HELP!!! Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I think the spraying with water would definitely help the plants. I would advise you to take soil samples to the ag center. If you've never done it before, ask them first how to do it. There is a certain way to do it.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I'd mix a pretty thick solution of Dawn dishwashing soap, maybe 1 part Dawn to 50 parts water, and spray the whole affected area, top & bottom of every leaf and everywhere else on the plant, to trap the fire & firefighting residues with the surfactants, then rinse them into the soil. Rinse well.

Don't worry about toxic uptake by the plants from the soil to the crop, but I might go ahead and toss any greens or annual herbs that were directly affected. Sanitary methods after handling soil are wise anyway, but maybe be even more aware of them now for the next few months. Ride out the summer, bury the affected areas deeply with compost in Fall, then overwinter and I think you will be able to forget about it all by next Spring.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

Smoke, particulate matter from fires, will always have residue in it. Hosing off your plants would have moved any that migh be on the plants onto, and into, your soil. However, if your soil has adequate levels of organic matter and an active Soil Food Web which can work on removing any of these potential contaminents there should be little concern.
Dawn is a detergent that has been shown to be harmful to plants, so is not something I would use in the garden.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I guess I am more concerned with the fruits (like zucchini and beans) and leafy veggies (kale, lettuce, greens, herbs) that were already on the plants and exposed to the smoke. I'm scared that if we eat them, we will be harmed in some way.

My soil is very high in organic matter and rich with soil borne life so hopefully my little friends will be able to help me out.

I would really like to be able to eat/keep those plants but if they aren't safe, then I'll get rid of them. Thanks for your responses!


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

  • Posted by RpR_ 3-4 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 2, 12 at 12:40

You have fallen prey to the paranoid--"It is gonna kill you-- hype that seems to pop up often on some of thise threads.

Wash it and eat it.

People who worry themselves sick are their own enemy, not any outside source.
The majority of warnings that come with x,y or z anywhere is A: people covering their buttocks from being sued; B: God wannabes playing God.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I am getting several answers from people who do seem to be just covering their butts. However, I seriously do not want to poison my family. I just don't know what to do. I just received this email response from my local extension agent:

"All kinds of chemicals can become airborne and travel in the smoke from a fire. If your garden was engulfed by the smoke from this burning building, I would play it safe and remove all plants from the garden. We know that certain molecules can be brought into the plants from smoke (CO, NO2, NO3, etc.). There are studies that show the detriment of this damage (but those studies are limited to the effect this has on the plant, not necessarily on the human consuming them). I have personally seen smoke damage (CO damage) on tomatoes in high tunnels heated by wood-fired stoves when the chimney stack failed. With this, it is not a far leap to assume that other materials could make their way into the plant (though you would almost certainly see this affect the plants� health). Having said all of that, if you do not want to remove all plants, at least remove any existing "food." That is, any leafy vegetables and any fruit from fruiting vegetables (tomato, pepper, eggplant, etc), this includes root crops, as these foods were subjected to the questionable smoke. Anything that develops from here on out will not have been directly subjected to the smoke, but the plants will have, so this is still risky, just not as much.
Sorry to hear that this happened to your garden. Better to be safe than sorry."

What do you guys think? Should I consider my huge garden a total loss or should I just remove the current fruits?? Thanks for your opinions.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I've given my opinion, I'll just add that I'm a former USFS firefighter who gardens organically and has a eco-degree from UCSB.

House and car fires are nasty, RpR is being cavalier about you and your family's health, imo. You need the surfactants to emulsify the filmy residues so they can be rinsed off, water alone will not do this. Dawn is fine, imo, but Safers soap or a similar mixture of your liking will work, as long as the soap contains surfactants.

The agency responding there seems overly cautious. The fire residues are a surface phenomenon and the damage from fumes has passed. I would: deal with the residues by capture and removal via flushing, then treat the soil microflora extra nice from now til Spring -- fish or kelp emulsion, molasses, compost teas, ... I would deal with the possible gas toxicity by observing all plants, then pruning or pulling affected ones. I'd still toss the greens and herbs and keep and wash squash/tomatoes/peppers... As it is a surface phenomenon, there's nothing wrong with a veggie peeler either.

Sorry you have to go through this, modern society uses such a broad array of building materials it is tough to be scientifically accurate about what risk you are exposed to when homes burn. It is fairly well known that fertile soils and growing plants will filter out toxins, so no fears for eating later crops. Your garden shouldn't be a total loss, but you will have to make some choices, based on your personal comfort level.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

When I started my training as a firefighter I learned that the common household materials in use in the 1970's would release during a fire minor and innocuous things such as Cyanide, Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulfur Dioxide, among others as well as Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide. When modern building materrials were added, plastic piping for example, even more toxic stuff was available in the smoke produce by that fire.
All of that is relatively easy to wash off the fruits growing in a garden, often with a good stream of water as they grow in the garden or any soap in the kitchen. All soaps aand detergents are surfactants, a substance that lowers the surface tension between two materials. however, detergents have been shown to do greater harm to growing plants that did help those plants.
I suspect your local extension agent is not being quite as truthful to you, as an organic gardener, as he could be. I too find some of them to disdain organic gardening as something akin to withcraft although there are others that practice organic gardening themselves.
Keep you garden growing and producing and wash everything that grows there this year and as long as your soil has adequate levels of organic matter to support an active Soil Food Web you should have no health problems to be concerned about. Although the concentration of the residue from that fire will be higher than normal those are not anythjing that you are not exposed to every day as you go about your way, although in much smaller amounts.


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RE: Smoke from Building Fire

I guess I am more concerned with the fruits (like zucchini and beans) and leafy veggies (kale, lettuce, greens, herbs) that were already on the plants and exposed to the smoke. I'm scared that if we eat them, we will be harmed in some way.

If your are ''concerned'' or ''scared" then don't eat them. Simple as that. Facts are irrelevant if one is concerned or scared.


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