mulch-fire-injuryIt’s springtime! We made it through another cold winter. Now, the days are growing longer, daffodils are in bloom and many people are gearing up for weekends in the yard. Gardening and landscaping can be rewarding ways to spend some time outdoors this time of year. One of the things I often notice in the spring but rarely spend much time thinking about is mulch. To the very limited extent I consider mulch, I register how it smells when first put down. I think it looks nice spread over garden beds. I appreciate its weed-blocking capabilities. But I have to admit, when I looked at piles of mulch in the past, I never thought DANGER! Maybe I should have.

Mulch poses a very real fire hazard when it is not properly managed and applied. Landscaping mulch has become the top choice for ground cover at people’s homes, offices and businesses. It is important to take the necessary precautions to prevent mulch from catching on fire to protect people and property from harm.

Experts believe there are two potential causes of mulch fires. The most widely accepted cause is the improper disposal of smoking materials. Do not expect mulch to erupt in flames at the touch of a discarded cigarette. However, even a small spark can cause mulch to smolder, and heat and fire can spread slowly below the surface of the mulch only to erupt much later, especially on low humidity and high wind conditions.

To a lesser extent, there is evidence that mulch can spontaneously combust under the right atmospheric conditions. When mulch is piled high – six inches or more – heat can build up below the surface and begin to smolder. Last spring, a Virginia family in Loudoun County was left homeless after their landscaping mulch spontaneously combusted and set fire to their home. The fire spread to two neighboring homes, resulting in approximately $1.36 million in damage. Thankfully, no one was injured.

While mulch fires do not happen every day, they do pose a serious risk. There are some simple steps you can take to prevent mulch fires:

  • Keep at least 18 inches of space between the edge of mulch beds and combustible materials, such as exterior vinyl siding and decks.
  • Keep landscaped mulch beds moist. Hot, dry mulch beds are more likely to combust.
  • Maintain proper clearance for electrical devices, such as decorative lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When possible, use non-combustible materials like river rock, pea gravel or crushed rock for the first 18 inches around the base of a building with combustible siding and around gas and electric meters and grills.

Some of our greatest tools for fighting mulch fires are knowledge and vigilance. By taking proactive steps to prevent mulch fires, you can avoid dangerous and costly harm.