Archived News: This news release is more than one year old and may include outdated information.
A number of recent fires have left more than 80 people in our community without a home, and each fire had a common link: cigarettes.
Since February, the Madison Fire Department has responded to at least six fires suspected or determined to be caused by improperly discarded smoking materials. These fires have resulted in nearly $3 million in property loss, in addition to leaving dozens of people searching for new homes. Luckily, no injuries or fatalities have resulted from these fires, but firefighters call attention to the trend in hopes of preventing more fires like these.

Small Culprit, Big Consequences

On April 18, a two-alarm fire occurred after improperly discarded smoking materials ignited in a clay flower pot. Wind gusts over 35 miles per hour fueled the fire, and investigation revealed that a high number of cigarette butts discarded in the pot contributed to the fire. More than 70 people were displaced. In February, a fire displaced seven renters from a downtown building. Its origin was an overflowing ashtray on a wooden porch. Two months later, a household on the east side was displace for the same reason.

Small actions, like making sure cigarette butts are put out all the way and regularly emptying receptacles, could have prevented these fires from happening. Firefighters remind all residents to take these steps when discarding cigarettes and other smoking materials:

  • Discard your cigarettes in a container that won’t catch on fire. Use an approved ashtray, metal coffee canister, or a bucket with sand.
  • Put your cigarette out all the way. Put water on the ashes and butts to make sure they are totally extinguished before placing them in the trash.
  • Empty your ashtray often so cigarette butts don’t pile up. Even if you throw your cigarettes in a proper receptacle, the butts can still catch on fire, especially if the receptacle is full.

Renters Insurance: A Worthwhile Investment          

Of the approximately 80 renters displaced from their homes since February, only six had renters insurance. In the event of a fire, renters insurance will offer the type of protection to help renters pay for temporary housing accommodations (i.e. hotel costs) and replace damaged possessions.

Those who are not insured must find a way to cover these costs out of pocket, and many do not have the means to do so.
Renters insurance is a small investment— approximately $20 per month, or the cost of a couple packs of cigarettes— and can make a critical difference in one’s ability to recover financially after a fire. The Madison Fire Department encourages all renters to explore their options and invest in renters insurance today.
Resources to Help You Quit
If you’re a smoker looking to quit, contact the Wisconsin Tobacco QuitLine for resources, coaching, and tips. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit 24-hour help is available.
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ATTACHMENTS: The following are free for use with credit to the Madison Fire Department
  • VIDEO: This test burn demonstrates how quickly a fire can start, especially in windy conditions, after a cigarette that was not extinguished properly is placed in a flower pot with several other discarded cigarette butts. This video shows ignition occurring in just 58 seconds.
    • In the aftermath of a home fire that displaced two on the east side, the Madison Fire Department’s Fire Investigation Team located hundreds of cigarette butts and a burned-up plastic pail where they had been discarded. The improperly discarded smoking materials were determined to be the cause of the fire.
    • Smoking materials discarded in a clay flower pot on a third-floor balcony of a west side apartment ignited, leading to fire spread in the attic space of the building. Windy conditions fueled the fire and added to the difficulty in extinguishing the fire. All 70+ occupants were displaced due to the amount of heat, smoke, and water damage to the building.