Virginia Fire Marshal Warns Mulch Can Spontaneously Combust

Mulch fires are more likely when the weather is hot. Here's how to protect your property

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The Loudoun County Fire Marshal's Office is warning that fires that start in landscaping mulch or other organic planting materials can easily spread into shrubbery, up exterior walls, and into homes or buildings.

An Aldie, Virginia, home burst into flames Tuesday evening after newly placed mulch ignited and extended to the home. 

Alarming videos show the fire covering the single-family home and firefighters rushing to extinguish it. Angelica González and her family had self-evacuated the home and were found safely outside. 

“It was so sad, yeah … really sad. And the fire started spreading,” Gonzalez said.

Civilians and firefighters were not injured, but the four residents were displaced.

The fire was caused by spontaneous combustion of landscaping mulch that caused the mulch fire and ignited the home. 

“Spontaneous combustion can happen when a decomposing, organic material such as mulch generates enough heat to ignite without an outside source," said Chief Fire Marshal Linda Hale. "Because of this, a large or compacted area of mulch can create sufficient heat to spontaneously combust. Remember, in all cases, mulch fires are more likely to start when the weather is hot, and it has been dry for an extended period.”

The total amount loss is expected to be $1.36 million, including $20,000 in damages to two nearby houses.

To help prevent mulch fires at your home or business, the Loudoun County Fire Marshal's Office suggests these safety tips:

  • Maintain at least 18 inches of clearance between the edge of the mulch bed and combustible building materials, such as exterior vinyl siding and decks.
  • Keep landscaped mulch beds moist if possible.
  • Recognize that hot and dry spells, along with windy conditions, allow mulch fires to start more readily.
  • Ensure proper clearance to electric devices, such as lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Use non-combustible materials such as river rock, pea gravel or crushed rock for the first 18” around the base of a building with combustible siding and around gas and electrical meters.
  • Immediately report any smoke or fire by calling 9-1-1.

Hale said the risk of mulch fire is common this time of year and urges homeowners to have that 18-inch buffer between the house and the mulch. Taking these steps will give fire and rescue units a fighting chance to stop a mulch fire in time. 

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