Cottonwood buildup brings fire risk to Minnesota neighborhoods

Image 1 of 2

On a corner of west Bloomington, a house that has stood since 1961 was nearly brought down Saturday because of a huge, old cottonwood tree that towers overhead.

The woman who lives there said she was home, saw smoke and called 911.

Her house caught fire because her neighbor was burning the cottonwood along his driveway, and embers blew next door.

“Very much like sawdust, very much like a grain explosion,” said Richfield Fire Chief Wayne Kewitsch. “This doesn’t explode, but it burns extremely rapidly.”

Kewitsch says it’s typical to get calls this time of year, when the cottonwood is at its peak.

Most often, people are setting fire to cottonwood on purpose either for pyrotechnic entertainment or because it’s easier than sweeping.

“Typically, what we’ll see is people being careless to get rid of them,” Kewitsch said. “They’ll use a weed-burning torch and they don’t realize how flammable they are and the next thing you know their grass is on fire, their house can catch on fire.”

The cottonwood burns fast, acting like a fuse, which can lead directly to trees or homes.

“There’s a lot of things people don’t realize are dangerous to them,” added Kewitsch. “That’s why we have fire departments.”

Fire chiefs understand the temptation. They just want those who are tempted or careless to realize the consequences.

Real damage can happen really fast and there’s only one right way to deal with it.

“Broom and a dust pan,” the chief said.