Bug bombs cause apartment fire

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Residents of a Salt Lake City neighborhood are wary of buying "bug bombs" after a fire burned through a nearby apartment. Firefighters say two bug bombs were the culprits behind the fire that started Sunday. Now they are warning residents to use caution when using the canisters, and to read the directions.

Salt Lake City Firefighters say the two bug bombs ignited a fire in the apartment because person who used them didn't follow the directions on the box. The blaze broke out around 11 a.m. Sunday in a four-unit apartment building near 300 East and Herbert Avenue.

One occupant suffered slight smoke inhalation when he tried to enter the apartment. He was treated and released on scene.

Neighbors were surprised to learn of the cause; many of them had no idea the chemicals bug bombs could ignite.

Bug bombs are commonly used foggers that disperse an aerosol insecticide. Homeowners usually set one off and then leave for hours while the insecticide takes effect.

Neighbor Marilynne Joulhayan said, "I had no idea that a bug bomb could do something like that."

She wasn't the only one in the neighborhood surprised to find out that a bug bomb could start a fire.

Salvador Vega said, "No clue, not really."

Heather Bennett said, "I had no idea. I didn't even know they were real chemicals. I didn't know what it was really."

Not all bug bombs are flammable, but the ones used in the complex on Sunday were.

Firefighters say the tenant set off two commonly used foggers without turning off a pilot light in the utility closet near the kitchen.

"Sounds like two of them were used in a very enclosed area," Salt Lake firefighter Mark Bednarik said. "[They] were used right near the utility closet and, in this particular enclosure, those two were sufficient to reach their flammable range, and then it ignited."

The fire destroyed nearly everything inside the initial apartment. It also damaged to two others. The only apartment not damaged was Vega's. Firefighters put out the flames before it could reach his front door.

Unified Fire Capt. Clint Smith says many people just aren't aware the risks the pest-control measures can pose.

"One, it's a pest fogger. They really don't put any stock that there is any risk in using that type of a product. And two, they don't read the instructions properly."

Smith says it isn't the insecticide that is flammable. It's the propellant inside the canister used to disperse the insecticide. It shouldn't be placed too close to things like pilot lights. He says people also make the mistake of trying to use too many.

"They're using multiple --six, eight, 10-- and getting a lot more of that flammable component in that area, and they're not securing their possible ignition sources within the home," Smith said.

Bug bombs have resulted in fire all across the country. In June, a Sacramento, Calif., homeowner used 10 bug bombs instead of the recommended one, and his home exploded. In 2001, 18 foggers ignited in a San Diego apartment when fumes reached a gas pilot light.

While those fires were bigger than the one here in Salt Lake City, the message firefighters say is the same.

California actually has warned about the dangers of improper use of bug bombs since at least 2002. A news release dated June 25, 2002, from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation says "foggers, often called ‘bug bombs,' may create a hazard to people and property if label precautions are ignored."

"The safest thing to do is read the manufacturer's label and not deviate from that," Bednarik said.

Before igniting a bug bomb, a safety check should be done. That includes turning off all ignition sources-- such as gas pilot lights and electrical appliances--and then airing out the area before turning them back on.


Compiled with information from Andrew Adams and Shara Park

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