Grass clippings spontaneously sparked Greenwood house fire, investigators say

GREENWOOD, Ind. – Fire investigators are sending out a warning for homeowners after an unusual house fire was spontaneously sparked by grass clippings from a lawnmower.

Fire crews responded before 6 a.m. Thursday in the 200 block of Haywood Road, in the Wakefield subdivision. Across the street, Cherie Wiser says she could feel the heat from the flames as they quickly engulfed the garage.

“The fire was already raging,” Wiser said. “It was so fast and hot.”

The family living in the home, Morgan and Chris Rector, and their 5-year-old son Christopher, had already escaped unhurt by the time first responders arrived. White River Township and Bargersville firefighters stopped the blaze from overtaking the house. But the garage was already destroyed and damage inside the house made it unlivable.

“You could tell they were heartbroken and my heart breaks for them,” Wiser said. “The hotel said you can’t bring any fire, smoke damaged stuff. So they basically left with a five-year old with the clothes on their backs.”

Investigators examining the damage soon came to a surprising conclusion about the cause of the fire, which started in the garage.

A bag of grass clippings attached to this lawnmower is believed to be the cause of this Greenwood fire early Thursday morning.

“Grass inside the bag of a mower that decomposed and put off enough heat to ignite fumes from a gas can nearby,” said White River Township Fire Chief, Jeremy Pell.

Pell says the grass clipping were still inside the bag on the lawnmower, and the gas can was sitting next to it. The heat from the grass decomposition was enough to spark the fumes from the gasoline.

Pell says he’s seen plenty of mulch and compost fires, as well as garage fires sparked when a gas can is left next to a pilot light.

“This is a first for me,” Pell said. “Having the decomposition in the mower, in a garage, next to a gas can, and do this kind of damage is a really usual set of circumstances.”

As rare as this may be, Pell suggests homeowners take steps to prevent a similar fire in their own garage. Specifically, he suggests keeping bagged grass clippings or leaves away from anything flammable.

“If you’re ever in doubt, just set it outside and keep those combustibles separated,” he said. “We all do this. We mow our yard, we put our mower back, we set the gas can next to it. And this could happen to anybody.”

Wiser says the Rector family being forced from their home is having a significant impact on their income. Morgan Rector operates an at-home day care and the fire damage has left that in limbo for the time being.

Wiser and other friends and neighbors are working to help the Rector family by collecting supplies and donations. You can find a link to that fundraising and collection effort here.