The Danger of Mulch Fires

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23 June 2013
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Lawn Care

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“Only you can prevent forest fires”…if you’re a child of the 70s or 80s you’ve heard this a million times from Smokey the Bear, but what about mulch fires?

Mulch fires begin due to dry days, lack of water and spontaneous combustion. As the mulch is laying on your landscaped area with the sun beating down on it, the heat is steadily rising. Signs of a mulch fire developing include ash spots in your mulch (see the gray spots in this story’s photo) of what may appear like dew burn off but it is a fire in the works.

How can you prevent them?

  • First and foremost wet your mulch throughly! Don’t have time? Not a problem, head to your local hardware store and invest in a hose timer. For $30 you can get a time that is digital and can go off 2 times per day from 5 to 99 minutes. Set it to go off with a walking sprinkler that will go past all your beds. I like to set mine out after dinner (laying out the hose track for my cast iron sprinkler) and set it to go off at 8am and 8pm during off peak electricity times for 99 minutes. This get every bed around my structure wet enough.
  • Ensure your landscape lighting is far enough above to not heat the mulch. What didn’t seem like heat in May when you planted the lights may now be a fire hazard.
  • Do not store your mulch in piles more than 10 inches deep (if you get it delivered) and if you have bags store them in the shade.
  • Use noncombustible mulch such as rock or pea gravel around the gas meter and next to the combustible portions of the structure.
  • The rule of thumb between combustible materials and mulch is 18 inches. Need to get closer than 18 inches, pea gravel or stone is the sole safe option.
  • Inquire about what type of mulch is being used on your property. Mulch that contains cocoa hulls is nearly impossible to ignite whereas rubber mulch (see why I write against it here) once ignited is nearly impossible to put out, spread fast and burns toxic chemicals. Concerning that people still use rubber mulch near play sets!

The fire triangle is know as: heat + fuel + oxygen.

Do your best to protect your structures and encourage neighbors to keep mulch wet!

Have more questions, contact your local fire department via their non-emergency number.



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