For Immediate Release - February 27, 2017

Spontaneous Combustion of Oily Rags Cause of Fire at State Police Museum in Grafton

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, State Police Colonel Richard D. McKeon and Grafton Fire Chief Michael E. Gauthier said Saturday’s fire at the Massachusetts State Police Museum & Learning Center, 44 Worcester Street in Grafton was caused by the spontaneous combustion of oily rags.

Workers were at the museum on Saturday refinishing wooden molding in the second floor conference room where the fire started. The sawdust and stain soiled rags were placed in a plastic trash bag and left in the room at the end of the work day. “As flammable oil from rags dry out, they produce heat that can start a fire like this one which is why it is important to dispose of oily rags properly,” said State Fire Marshal Peter. J. Ostroskey. “When balled up with combustibles like sawdust, a fire can quickly start,” he added. The building was not sprinklered.

The fire was jointly investigated by the Grafton Fire and Police Departments and State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Assistance was received from the Grafton building and electrical inspectors.

“Firefighters did a superb job containing the flames to an area on the second floor. The MSP is grateful beyond words for their efforts in preserving the numerous artifacts and photographs from the department's 151-year history that are on display,” said State Police Colonel Richard D. McKeon

Upon arrival the fire department observed heavy fire coming out the second floor window. They used forcible entry to be able to stretch a hose line up the stairs and were able to knock the fire down within minutes and keep it from spreading beyond the room of origin. “The second floor sustained smoke and heat damage, and we covered the first floor with salvage covers to protect the artifacts,” said Grafton Fire Chief Gauthier. The fire department checked for fire extension into the walls and opened all the windows to ventilate the building and assisted the trooper from State Fire Marshal’s office with the investigation.

How to Dispose of Oily Rags
Oil or gas-soaked rags should be safely disposed of after use using two steps: 

  • Hang them outside to dry in a safe area or spread them out flat, making sure they are weighted down outdoors. They should not be in a pile.
  • Once they are dry, they should be disposed of properly.

For someone who uses oily rags on a daily or weekly basis, the oily rags should be placed in a listed oily waste container and emptied by a private contractor.

For a less frequent user, the now dry oily rags should be stored in a small, airtight, non-combustible (such as metal) container with a tight-fitting lid. An old paint can is a good example. The rags should be completely covered with a solution of water and an oil breakdown detergent. Do not add any other combustible material that can catch fire. The user should then dispose of the rags during a city-sponsored hazardous waste collection day.

For more information on the safe disposal of oily rags go to:

About the Massachusetts State Police Museum & Learning Center
The Museum and Learning Center is housed in the former Grafton State Police Barracks. The building, located at 44 Worcester St., was built in 1931. The barracks operation was closed in October 2006. The Museum and Learning Center, the initiative of a group of retired Massachusetts State Police Troopers, opened in 2008, leading the building. Thanks to state legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Baker last year, the Museum and Learning took ownership of the building in 2016.