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Provo firefighters fight two blazes fueled by cottonwood seeds

Published: Tuesday, May 27 2014 5:56 p.m. MDT

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PROVO — They may appear fluffy and fun to play with, but Provo firefighters know how volatile cottonwood seeds are when they are ignited.

"These little seed pods, as they expand and grow, there's so much surface area to them to burn," Provo Deputy Fire Chief Tom Augustus said Monday. "They are so light and fluffy that they go up just like gasoline."

Firefighters were called to a pair of fires Sunday fueled by the highly flammable seeds.

The first fire was sparked about 7 p.m. by a lit cigarette that was discarded along the Provo River Parkway, Augustus said. The man who tossed the cigarette saw the fire start, immediately called 911 and remained at the scene until firefighters arrived, the deputy chief said.

The second fire started about four hours later, damaging a shed behind a house at 683 N. 970 West, Augustus said. Nearby homes were threatened as well as the flames traveled 40 feet up a massive cottonwood tree, sending burning seed pods into the neighboring yards.

"We know that cotton can't light itself on fire, so we know that it was human caused," Augustus said. "Was there an intent (to start the fire)? We don't think so. We think someone was just messing around and everything was just right to do some damage."

Firefighters are encouraging property owners to clear cottonwood seeds away from around their homes and buildings, including removing them from bushes, corners and window wells. Tall grasses should be cut short to eliminate another place where the airborne seed pods often build up.

Those aren't the top requests from firefighters, though.

"We're just asking people to be careful and not to try and light (cottonwood seeds)," Augustus said. "And remind your kids, by example more than anything, that you don't need to be playing with that stuff."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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