Cigarette Butts a Leading Cause of Grass Fires in Nebraska

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With almost no rain or snow recently and strong winds, much of Nebraska is in a fire danger zone.

In conditions like this the smallest spark can lead to a large fire, including a cigarette butt.

Grass fires across the state have kept fire departments very busy in recent months.

When a fire burned up ground along I-80 near the Alda interchange in late January, fire crews said they believed it was started by a cigarette that someone threw out their window. With the ground being so dry and it being so windy, fire departments say that cannot happen.

"Cigarette butts, obviously are hot. When the grass is extremely dry such as it is now, it's a pretty easy combination to have a grass fire," said Cory Schmidt, the Grand Island Fire Chief.

Many times the grass fires caused by cigarettes are along roads where people throw them from their car.

Chief Schmidt said, "Typically if we have one along a road right of way, that's our #1 clue that it probably is a cigarette or something similar. If anyone's ever walked along the roadways, often times there's lots of cigarette butts there because it is a common practice which we obviously don't care to see."

Because of this, it makes the most sense to make sure you dispose of any smoking material properly. That includes if you just stepped outside your door to smoke.

"Normally, especially around a home or business, we recommend a sturdy ash tray that can't tip over, one that's made out of metal. Also we'd like to see them filled with sand or water. If you put a cigarette but in water or sand and there's nothing around there that can burn, you're fairly safe there," said Schmidt.

But when driving, there are no metal containers to use. But that doesn't mean you should throw the butt out the window which is also considered littering.

"Put it in your vehicle ashtray. Put them someplace non combustible and then when you get where you're going put them in water or sand," said Schmidt.

Schmidt said according to a report made by the National Fire Protection Association, about 12 percent of outside fires were caused by cigarette butts. But it could be more.

Schmidt said in cases of grass fires where there are no injuries or property damage, they don't spend a lot of extra hours investigating.

That's why many times the cause of these fires are not known.