Accidental fire shows hazards of cotton fluff

Cotton quickly caught fire from a cigarette outside of an apartment near NE Valley Road and NE Hillside Drive.

CODY COTTIER, Evergreen reporter

A 32-year-old Pullman man accidentally started a brush fire on the hill beside Valley Road on Monday after flicking his cigarette into a patch of cotton fluff outside his home on Hillside Drive.

The man, who recently moved to Pullman, tried with neighbors to extinguish the fire with dirt and water but it spread quickly across the hill, scorching the vinyl siding of one building and damaging the roof of another. It did not cause any major structural damage or injure anyone.

After the man and his neighbors failed to put out the fire, they went around to the nearby houses alerting people of it.

“We did the best we could,” he said.

Firefighters responded shortly after 9 p.m. and quickly extinguished it. Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston urged a group of bystanders to be extremely careful around cotton fluff this time of year, and to extinguish smoking materials properly.

“It’s super, super flammable,” he said. “Don’t even think for a second you can test it. It’s just like gasoline.”

“We need it right in their faces,” he said.

LUKE HOLLISTER | The Daily Evergreen
Firefighters cut down branches and cleared out the area near where the fire started.

He said the cotton is often six inches deep, and spreads easily to surrounding brush, particularly juniper bushes. The sap of these bushes is also highly flammable, and they often cover other flammable materials, such as needles and trash.

“Those are one of our number one enemies,” he said.

Deputy Fire Marshal Tony Nuttman advised people, in dealing with cotton fluff, to wet it down, rake it up and dispose of it safely. When it is dry, raking is likely to disperse it.

He noted it was lucky there was no wind Monday night, as this helps cotton fires spread. When responding to such fires, officials must be thorough in checking the surrounding areas for spot fires.

“You can’t chase it fast enough,” Nuttman said.

Kendall Ray, a senior studying digital technology and culture, was driving by when he saw the fire, near a building he is soon moving into.

“It’s just spreading toward my apartment and I’m like ‘hell no, hell no,’ ” he said. “I already got last month’s rent on it!”

A man who lives in one of the damaged buildings stood outside with his family as firefighters worked. He described how he arrived to find the fire strewn across the brush behind his home, where his son was at the time.

“I’m just glad it’s out,” he said. “I was scared, very scared.”

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to include updated information.