How Much Do You Know About Mulch?

Mulch is a common sight in residential yards, around many other types of buildings and even in landscape beds that adorn our highways. Often, it is used for aesthetics but it also serves as a practical way to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Along with the common sight of mulch use comes a less obvious but all too common consequence of mulch use – fire!

Some mulch fires may be due to spontaneous combustion, which typically happens when mulch is piled high and is allowed to remain for a long period of time. Primarily, this type of fire affects those who deal with large quantities of mulch such as commercial mulch, producers, providers or landscape companies. One example is a fire that happened at Oldcastle Lawn and Garden in Sauget, IL in September 2017. Firefighters from Sauget and 10 other departments fought a mulch blaze caused by spontaneous combustion for over 16 hours burning over 20,000 yards of mulch.

Photo Link to Safety Tips on Mulch Fires

But, a mulch fire should also be a concern for the consumer and the general public. Most of these fires are caused by the careless disposal of smoking materials. Just recently on March 5, 2018, a fire started in the mulch at a Chuck E. Cheese Restaurant in Woodbridge, VA. The fire quickly extended up the side of the building to the business sign area and other parts of the structure, thus closing the business down. Another example is a two-alarm fire that broke out at Chestnut Ridge Apartments in Harrisonburg, VA on April 11, 2014. It was started by a cigarette butt carelessly tossed into the mulch. The fire displaced 21 people and caused $250,000 in damages. Additionally, each year, particularly during the spring time or periods of low humidity and/or windy dry conditions, fire departments are routinely dispatched to fires in medians along the highways, fires in landscape beds at commercial properties and to building fires that originated in adjacent mulched landscape areas. Though there were no injuries or fatalities in the two referenced building fires, the reality is that the potential was there. Additional consequences to these types of fires include the cost to the home and/or business owner to repair damages, the ever-present dangers that exist to responding fire crews and the fact that these preventable emergencies can render resources unavailable for other emergencies.

TIPS FOR PREVENTION

  • Provide a minimum 18-inch clearance between landscaped mulch beds and combustible building materials.
  • Recognize that when the weather is hot and there has been little or no rain for an extended time, mulch fires can start more readily.
  • Regularly water mulch when the weather is hot and dry to keep it moist.
  • If you see anything smoldering in a landscaped area, put it out if you can and report it to someone inside the building. If the burning material is not thoroughly wetted down or removed, it may reignite.  Always call 9-1-1.
  • Be aware of conditions that are favorable for mulch fires and increase surveillance of mulch beds in the afternoon, when fires are more likely to occur.
  • Designate outdoor smoking areas and provide receptacles for smoking materials at all entrances.
  • Do not discard cigarettes along roadways, in parking lots or in mulch generally or in potted plants.
  • Consider using metal cans with sand for outdoor lighted smoking material disposal.
  • Provide proper clearance for electric devices such as decorative lights by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Use only the manufacturer’s recommended size/wattage for yard light bulbs.
  • Use only electrical devices and cords listed for outdoor use, and follow the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Consider replacing wood mulch with less combustible materials such as cocoa shells or decorative stone. NOTE: More fire-resistant wood mulches are course and chunky because they retain moisture longer.
  • Use noncombustible mulch such as rock or pea gravel around the gas meter and next to the combustible portions of the structure.

Whether you are a home or business owner, York County Department of Fire and Life Safety encourages you to provide a minimum of 18-inches clearance between your structure and landscaped mulch beds. This is the first and best step you can take to lessen the danger and expense of a mulch fire on your property. If you have any questions or if you need more information, be sure to contact our office Monday through Friday between 8:15 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at (757) 890-3600.