Spring Weather, Carelessness Spark Local Mulch Fire Risk

WASHINGTON — The beauty of spring weather near the nation’s capital carries with it an increased risk of dangerous mulch fires.

Between March 24 through the past week, the Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System logged 71 mulch fires, Chief Keith Brower told WTOP.

Mulch, which is often used in gardens to retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth, can be extremely flammable.

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A mulch fire can quickly spread to shrubbery or flammable home exteriors (Loudoun County Fire and Rescue)\n"},{"type":"photo","media":"


This fire in Purcellville started when a cigarette was discarded in a flower pot, with flammable potting soil. (Courtesy Loudoun County Fire and Rescue)\n"},{"type":"photo","media":"


Fire started in this flower pot. Discarded cigarettes easily ignite flammable potting soil. (Courtesy Loudoun County Fire and Rescue)\n"},{"type":"ad","media":"

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“Most mulch is ground up pine or hardwood bark,” Brower said. “You can get it finely ground or in chips.”

The risk is exacerbated when homeowners place mulch directly next to their homes.

“People will smoke and the last thing they do before they come inside is discard their smoking materials, so it goes right into the mulch, either in the parking lot or, worse, up against the building entrance,” Brower said.

A fire that starts in mulch can be easily spread.

“The mulch has either ignited shrubbery, or created enough heat to ignite combustible exterior walls,” Brower said.

While weekend gardeners spread just-out-of-the-bag mulch outside their homes, it is often moist. Brower said local weather will quickly change the mulch’s moisture level.

“Wind is what dries out these materials,” Brower said. “Mulch is already a dead, decomposing material — you can have all the rain in the world, but if the wind kicks up, it’s going to dry it out quickly.”

Mulch fires usually start with improperly discarded cigarettes, but the organic material can catch fire on its own.

“As it’s decomposing, it’s producing heat,” Brower said. “And when the heat can’t readily escape to the atmosphere, it auto-ignites the material itself.”

A related fire risk comes when homeowners toss cigarettes in an outdoors flower pot.

“People figure its dirt, but potting soil is much more flammable,” Brower said.

Brower recommends using rocks or other nonflammable materials within 18 inches of a home, to prevent an accidental mulch fire from quickly spreading to a home.

The post Spring weather, carelessness spark local mulch fire risk appeared first on WTOP.

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