For the fourth time, rags used for staining wood cause fire in Belleville

Dave Berger of Neighbors for Renewal was surprised as anyone to hear a vacant home being renovated by the nonprofit group caught on fire Sunday night.

The fire was caused by the spontaneous combustion of rags that had been used in the staining of the oak parquet hardwood floors in the home at 705 Devonshire Drive near the intersection of North Belt West and Royal Heights Road. The rags had been discarded in a plastic trash can in the carport on Saturday morning.

No one was injured in the fire reported at 8:47 p.m. and Fire Chief Tom Pour believes the home can be salvaged because the main damage was confined to the carport. A neighbor reported the fire and firefighters were able to arrive in about three minutes and prevent major structure damage.

But the Sunday night fire was the fourth Belleville fire since August 2014 that material used in a staining project spontaneously caught on fire and it prompted Pour to remind residents about the dangers of improperly disposing of rags used in staining wood.

Pour said a can of stain that was used in a home that recently caught on fire gives users this direction:

▪  Put the rags or other items soaked with the stain in a sealed, water-filled metal container.

“If you’re using a product that you’re not familiar with, whether it’s a cleaning product, any kind of paint, stain, ... you should always thoroughly read the directions for use and for cleanup because it’s not only a fire hazard but there’s many chemicals you can use that may pose an inhalation hazard for you,” Pour said.

No injuries were reported in the other three Belleville fires involving staining materials that spontaneously started fires. Here’s a list of those fires:

▪  624 S. Illinois on Aug. 26, 2014. Renovation work was being done at Friday’s South bar.

▪  1320 E. State Route 15 on July 13. Antique farm equipment was being refurbished.

▪  1501 E. B St. on Dec. 5. Hardwood floors were being stained in the home.

Berger, who is the volunteer site supervisor of the Devonshire Drive home for Neighbors for Renewal, said it did not occur to him that the rags could combust during the late winter.

“I thought it took more heat, like summertime in hot garage,” Berger said.

The staining of the home’s hardwood floors was one of the last jobs that needed to be completed before the home could be put on the market.

“We just about had it done,” Berger said.

Berger said Neighbors for Renewal hopes to resell the home, which it bought for $20,000. He said the group’s break-even point for reselling the home is $80,000 to $85,000. The home was insured, he said.

The group, which has 501(c)(3) status, was formed in 1998. It buys homes in severe disrepair and rehabilitates the homes using as much volunteer labor as possible and resells the homes to working families, according to the group’s mission statement.

“We sell at a real affordable price,” Berger said.

For more information about volunteering or donating to the group, go to

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