Cause determined for nearly-completed Indianola home destroyed by fire

An unoccupied, nearly-completed home caught fire in Indianola. - Michele Laboda / North Kitsap Fire & Rescue
An unoccupied, nearly-completed home caught fire in Indianola.
— image credit: Michele Laboda / North Kitsap Fire & Rescue

INDIANOLA – The Kitsap County Fire Marshal announced Tuesday that the likely cause of Sunday’s blaze of a nearly-completed, unoccupied house was spontaneous combustion of rags and/or buffer pads left in the structure after being used to apply oil finish to wood floors Saturday evening.

Based on interviews with the homeowners and examination of physical evidence at the scene, investigators found that conditions inside the two-story, 3,300 square foot structure may have been right to cause spontaneous combustion. As oil-based and organic materials decompose, heat is released. When there’s enough air to support combustion but not so much as to dissipate the accumulating heat energy, the phenomenon can result in stacks of oily rags, compost heaps or wood chip piles.

Spontaneous combustion fires are unusual but not rare: North Kitsap Fire and Rescue (NKF&R) has responded to multiple instances over the years including several wood chip fires at the former Tucker Topsoil; a 2003 oily rags-sparked blaze at Suquamish’s Cedar Farms; a fire that destroyed a home under construction at Foulweather Bluff in 2009; and a recent incident in which oil-soaked rags from a restaurant scorched the inside of a Kingston laundromat’s dryer.

Officials surmise that Sunday’s blaze started sometime after the owners left the structure at midnight, in the center of the home’s main floor among materials used for the finishing work. Officials recommend handling oily rags with care, following the directions for storage and disposal provided by the material’s manufacturer. When one of the owners staying next door to the unoccupied home reported the blaze at 7:50 a.m. April 8, she described flames coming through the roof of the two-story structure. NKF&R firefighters were in Indianola mopping up at the scene of an earlier garage fire about a half-mile away, and the first crew arrived just seven minutes after dispatch to find the home fully-involved in flames.  Although the area is not served by fire hydrants, the fire had already grown to such devastating proportions that there was little to save.

“Having additional water readily available wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome,” said NKF&R Spokeswoman Michele Laboda. What would have made a difference, Laboda said, was early detection and extinguishment of the fire. Although residential fire sprinklers aren’t yet required for single family dwellings, they provide vital life and property protection through quick warning and suppression.

Laboda notes that although the owners had recently installed local smoke alarms, there was no one inside to hear them activate and the alarms weren’t connected to the fire department’s dispatch center. A fire sprinkler system would have automatically detected and held Sunday morning’s fire in check until the arrival of firefighters.

According to the United States Fire Administration, these life and property-saving systems can be installed in new construction for as little as $1.61 per square foot. The owner of the Foulweather Bluff home that burned in 2009 is almost finished rebuilding his home – this time, with a residential fire sprinkler system. Learn more at


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