Cottonwood seeds considered a potential fire hazard, Provo Fire officials say

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PROVO CITY, Utah -- Cottonwood seeds can make a small fire grow in just seconds. It's a problem firefighters say they encounter every year.

Anyone living near a cottonwood tree says the pollen falls like snow.

"My daughter will look out the window and say 'Oh mommy, it's snowing' and I'm like nope it's just those annoying little cotton things,” said Provo resident Kaitlyn Pulley.

Deputy Fire Chief Tom Augustus said those annoying little cotton things can be a serious fire hazard.

"They're light, they're fluffy, they float everywhere they pile up in certain areas and they have a lot of surface area that burns, so they burn really fast,” Augustus said.

Provo City Fire Department responded to two separate fires on Sunday both of which spread because of those fluffy white seeds.

One fire was in a Provo back yard. Investigators don’t know what initially sparked the fire, but say because of all the piled up cottonwood seeds, the fire spread.

“It runs through this cotton almost like gasoline, it goes really fast,” Augustus said.

Pulley lives on the other side of the fence of the home that caught on fire and was surprised when she saw firefighters in her backyard.

“It worried me because I have my daughter upstairs while she’s sleeping and you always hear about fires happening but when it’s close to you it’s a little scary,” Pulley said.

Burning seed embers had blown into her yard.

“In this back yard there were just hundreds of little spot fires. Some of them only two inches in diameter, some of them four or five feet because of embers flying around,” Augustus said.

The second fire was near the Provo River where a majority of the trees are cottonwoods. All it took was a spark from a discarded cigarette to make the area burst into flames.

These are just the first of the dozen fires like this that Provo City expects to see in the next month. Augustus wants to remind the community to clean up the seeds as much as possible and to be careful.

2 comments

  • lisa Manning

    I am no positive but I believe there os something that can be done to a cottonwood tree so it doesn’t seed.

    • Mickey

      Yes. Cut it down. Cottonwoods are dangerous for another reason: They grow really quickly, have relatively short lifespans, and rot from the inside. They can mash your house like a grape when they tip over. And the drop big, heavy limbs.

      Incidentally, the “fluff” carries the SEEDS, not the pollen. Male cottonwood trees have those nasty, sticky catkins that look like worms. And the catkins produce the pollen. They appear in March, before the leaves. Females produce the “cotton” a couple of months later. (After the pregnancy, I suppose.)

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