Safely dispose of wood ash

The improper disposal of ashes from fireplaces and woodstoves can cause wildland and structural fires. Wood ashes retain enough heat to ignite other combustible materials for several days. High winds can uncover still-hot embers and start a wildfire.

Officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry are alerting homeowners to this potentially serious threat to the safety of their families and homes.

"Improper wood ash disposals destroy homes, outbuildings and valuable forest resources each year," said Fred Turck, VDOF resource protection manager. "Please - BE CAREFUL!!!"

Follow these steps to cool down wood ash completely and prevent hot wood ash from igniting forest, field and structural fires:

•DO keep ashes in a metal container that can be tightly closed with a metal lid.

•DO teach other family members about the dangers associated with hot ash disposal.

•DO NOT dispose of ashes in paper, plastic or cardboard containers.

•DO NOT dump loads of wood ashes into one pile. The pile can retain heat and insulate embers for long periods of time.

•DO NOT assume the ashes are cold and pour them onto the ground or into a hole. Leaves can blow onto them or the wind can stir up sparks.

•DO NOT place ashes in a dumpster. Hot ashes could ignite a fire with material already in the dumpster.

•DO NOT store your metal ash container on your home's deck, in your garage or in any location that may allow heat to transfer from those hot ashes to nearby flammable items. 

Wood ash, once completely cooled, can safely be dumped. To properly dispose of hot ashes, pour the ashes into the metal container. Soak the ashes with water. Place the metal lid securely on the container. Put the closed container outside your home away from combustible materials. Store ashes in the container for several days.

Once you are POSITIVE the ashes in your container are "cold," spread them in a garden or a gravel driveway and then prepare your container for the next load.

One cord of wood produces about 50 pounds of ash. And it doesn't have to be dumped - all wood ash can be used as fertilizer.

Ash is composed of 50-70 percent lime and contains phosphorus, potash and trace elements. Gardeners can raise the soil's pH by applying wood ash to their soil. To avoid altering the pH too drastically, take a soil sample before adding wood ash.

Ashes also may be used as a repellent. Sprinkle cold ashes beside row crops and on paths through the garden to discourage slugs and snails.