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Don't Worry About Combustible Playgrounds, Experts Say

Don't Worry About Combustible Playgrounds, Experts Say

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Paul Nelson ReportingFire officials are calling it a bizarre case. A playground in Arlington, Texas, spontaneously caught on fire. So, what are the chances of that every happening here?

If you see the video online, it looks like something that could never really happen.

Salt Lake City fire spokesman Scott Freitag said, "Boy it is atypical to see a playground just burst into flames."

He says they've never seen a case like this. Some news sources say the mulch under the wood chips may have ignited. Freitag says they've seen mulch catch on fire in places like the dump.

"Materials, given the right circumstances, can spontaneously combust. You have to have three elements present: heat, oxygen and some ignition source," Frietag explained.

He says this could technically happen with wood chips. He says there is a chemical reaction when wood dries, which could lead to an ignition source, especially if the moisture in the wood chips below is retaining heat. But, he says, that is not very likely.

Frietag said, "Strictly looking at wood chips, the chances of just the wood catching on fire by itself are pretty low."

However, he can cite one case where spontaneous combustion destroyed a house. "Someone had left some charcoal briquettes in a bag outside in the sun," he said. Sure enough, that bag caught on fire.

If parents are worried that the equipment their children are playing on will go up in flames, park officials say you really don't need to worry.

Salt Lake County Parks and Operations Director Wayne Johnson said, "We have engineered wood products for most of our surfaces. The flame spreadability on that is quite low."

Johnson says they test how fire resistant materials are before they buy them for the parks.

"People say, ‘Oh, it won't burn.' So, we take a piece of their product out and put a match to it, or even an acetylene torch and try to burn things on occasion," he said.

Bottom line is, Johnson says you shouldn't let a bizarre case like the one in Arlington, Texas, keep your kids away from playing in a park.

"Don't be afraid of the playgrounds. We inspect them monthly, and accidents are rare," Johnson said.

He says even though the fire in Texas was a freak occurrence, more tests of playground equipment may be in order.

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