SCHENECTADY N.Y. (NEWS10)- Many Capital Region residents have been soaking up the unseasonably hot weather. But Schenectady Fire Chief Don Mareno is warning that the dry conditions have already contributed to a dozen recent outdoor fires in his city.

“12 fires in the last week that have been outdoor fires,” said Mareno. “And two of those have turned into structure fires.” He says some were quickly contained, but other fires that began outside spread to structures, like one fire in Schenectady. A resident who lives in one of the damaged homes told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker that he believes the fire may have been started by what’s known as cottonwood “fluff”. Cottonwood trees shed the fluff which is the stuff Capital Region residents have seen floating through the air and collecting on lawns, homes and around AC units. The fluff is so thick, that some neighborhoods have a wintery appearance in June.

“There’s a natural oil to them, so that’s what burns,” said Lt. Jim Penn who is with the Schenectady Fire Department’s HAZMAT and Investigative Unit. He demonstrated just how fast this stuff can ignite using a lighter, as a pile of the stuff quickly caught fire. A waiting firefighter doused the smoldering pile. “Just picture that going down the road,” said Penn. “Going into driveways and down into people’s backyards.”

And that’s not the only outdoor material that’s highly flammable. The mulch around your trees and plants can spontaneously combust. “If you have mulch by your home, you may want to wet it down a little bit occasionally,” suggested Chief Mareno. He says it’s lucky no one has been injured in these recent fires.

Open burning and amateur fireworks are illegal in the city of Schenectady. But that doesn’t mean people don’t break the law. Mareno also stresses caution when smoking or extinguishing cigarettes outside, especially around anything flammable. “It’s just that we are in an older city. Houses are close together. A lot of older houses, dry wood. It doesn’t take much for a spark to ignite something,” the fire chief added.