People lose their cars to fire after parking on leaf piles

ST. LOUIS – St. Louis firefighters are issuing a safety alert about dried up leaves piling up around the city.

Two vehicles were total loss after catching fire in the Compton Heights neighborhood of south city. Both cars had been parked over piles of leaves, firefighters said. The leaves were the suspected ignition source.

One of the piles wasn't all that big, neighbors said. They are demanding more frequent leaf pickups. At least one alderman is echoing the call.

“The city is hard-pressed to commit to additional pick-ups; however, that is exactly what residents and I would like to see. I'm calling for more frequent pick-ups in both the yard waste dumpsters and along the streets … additional leaf pick-up is really the only major city-service we consume in this area (16th Ward),” 16th Ward Alderman Tom Oldenberg, said in an email to Fox2/News 11.

Still, increased leaf pickups were not an option, city officials said Monday.

That left fire chief trying to spread the word about the hazards of piled up leaves.

“They’re so dry right now, any type of flammable material gets on them, they’re going to ignite. They go quick,” said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson. “A foot high is going to touch the exhaust systems of your car. These catalytic converters are operating at 600 to 1000 degrees. Exhaust manifolds – they’re 600 degrees. It’s hot enough to start the leaves on fire.”

Still, people were parking on piles of leaves as of Monday afternoon.

The city’s policy of picking up leaves at the curb once-a-month on pre-determined street sweeping days was partly to blame, residents said.

In parts of the city, most of the leaves have fallen after the designated pickup day, meaning people have piled leaves at their curbs with the scheduled pickup still weeks away.

“I hope they go back to the way it used to be. They do have to realize we have wonderful, mature trees and the leaves have to be picked up,” said resident Sharon Roberts, though she echoed the fire chief’s call to quit parking over leaves.

“I’m telling everybody don’t park on top of these piles. If you have to put them in bags, put them in a dumpster in the alley. They all came down at one time. The trees are almost barren right now, so the leaves are there,” Jenkerson said.

Residents can the Citizens Service Bureau at 314-622-4800 to arrange pickup of bagged leaves within 48 hours, city officials said.