Mulch Fires: What Should The Label Say?

Mulch has become a popular decorative part of many suburban landscapes. It is sold in a variety of colors and textures. Yet, there seems to be an increasing number of fires in which the first ignited
item is actually the mulch.

As investigators, we have seen “mulch” fires in New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. There are probably “mulch stories” around the country but most being handled as a routine matter in which little
damage results. In Salisbury Maryland city firefighters responded and used water to quell what amounted to a flower bed burning covered with red mulch. The problem was that there was a building
sitting along the bed of mulch with a combustible exterior. If not extinguished quickly a mulch fire can escalate to a major event from a troublesome small fire… more

Many thanks to the reference for this article, written and released by the Vermont Chapter: International Association of Arson Investigators.

Thomas Williams and Michael Lane. “MULCH FIRES-WHAT SHOULD THE LABEL SAY.” The Vermont Chapter: International Association of Arson Investigators Website, 2013. Accessed October 8th 2013


NEW Regulation On Mulch Safety – 527 CMR 17

The new regulation, 527 CMR 17, took effect last September and prohibits the new application of mulch within 18” around combustible exteriors of buildings, such as wood or vinyl but not brick or

concrete. Residential buildings with six units or less are exempted from this regulation, but all homeowners may also wish to adopt these safety practices. The regulation applies to all other

buildings including commercial properties… more

Many thanks to the reference for this article, written and released by the Office of the State Fire Marshal – Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Office of the State Fire Marshal. “Preventing Mulch Fires.” The Massachusetts Government Website, February 2013. Accessed October 8th 2013


Firefighters Battling large blaze in Southeast Orange County

More than 100 firefighters are battling a large blaze Sunday in Silverado, an unincorporated area of southeast Orange County, authorities said.

The fire started about 10:10 a.m. in a large mulch pile at a nursery in the 27900 block of Baker Canyon Road, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

The area is near the edge of the Cleveland National Forest… more

Many thanks to the reference for this article, written and released by the Los Angeles Times.

Jack Leonard. “Firefighters Battling large blaze in Southeast Orange County.” The Los Angeles Times Website, Monday, October 6, 2013. Accessed October 8th 2013


Mulch Fire causes severe damage to Firehall Pizza Co.

A carelessly tossed cigarette may be to blame for a fire at a restaurant in the Village at Blue Mountain.

The Blue Mountains Fire Department was called to Firehall Pizza Co. just after 3 a.m Sunday.

“The fire was basically coming out the side of the roof,” said Deputy Fire Chief A.J Lake.

Though the cause of the fire is not known, the Blue Mountains fire department have their speculations.

“We strongly suspect it was careless cigarette disposal,” said Lake. “We are sure it was started outside in a mulch garden.”

The fire department responded to another fire in a mulch garden earlier in the morning; in that case, the cause was determined to be a cigarette….read more

Many thanks to the reference for this article, written and released by the The Enterprise Bulletin.

Karena Walter. “Fire causes severe damage to Firehall Pizza Co.” The Enterprise Bulletin Website, Monday, July 23, 2012. Accessed August 17th 2012


Mulch fire spreads; $50,000 in damage

A fire that started in landscaping mulch and spread to an attic caused $50,000 in damage to a north Columbia home yesterday.

Columbia firefighters were called to 1513 Typhoon Court for a report of a residential structure fire at 11:05 p.m. When crews arrived, they found a fire had started in landscaping mulch, spread to the home’s living room windows, entered the soffit under the roof and extended to the attic. Crews extinguished the fire and conducted “extensive overhaul” from inside the home and through the roof to search for hidden fire.

Assistant Fire Marshal Lisa Todd investigated the fire and determined it started in the mulch. The cause remains under investigation. Todd estimated damage at $50,000. There were no injuries…read more

Many thanks to the publishers at the Columbia Daily Tribune

Unknown Author. “Mulch Fire Spreads, causing $50,000 in damage” Columbia Daily Tribune, July 26th 2012. Accessed August 17th 2012


Combating and Preventing Mulch Fires

Thousands of mulch fires are reported annually in every state. The Johnson City (TN) Fire Department has its share of mulch fires, averaging 100 per year. Mulch fires occur year-round but primarily in the summer when there is little rainfall. As a result, vegetation and landscaping materials become dried out, allowing for easy ignition. Mulch fires have caused extensive damage to structures and woodlands in and around Johnson City.

Our department is frequently called out to extinguish smoldering fires in bark mulch. Often, this burning mulch is up against the side of a residential or commercial structure, where it is likely to be unnoticed. This burning/smoldering mulch may eventually ignite the underneath of the siding and then spread into the structural components of the building and cause extensive damage.

Factors such as below-average rainfall, extremely dry conditions, warm temperatures, and abnormal winds increase the risk of serious damage from mulch fires. There has been a significant increase in mulch fires in northeast Tennessee over the past several years because of drought-like conditions. Another key factor in the increase of mulch fires has been the prohibitions on smoking indoors enacted by state/local governments and private businesses. Cigarette and cigar smokers often discard lighted smoking materials, including matches, into the landscaped areas as they enter buildings, which has been the cause of ignition for many mulch fires…read more

A great article written to raise safety awareness when tending to non fire resistant mulches published by Fire Engineering

Mark J. Finucane. “Combating and Preventing Mulch Fires.” Fire Engineering Magazine, 03/01/2008. Accessed August 17th 2012


Chief steamed by mulch fires

St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada – ‘Tis mulch ado about something.

Firefighters romping through annuals and hosing down wood chips has become a common sight for passersby on Fourth Ave.

The garden medians running down the busy St. Catharines street have been a hotbed for firetrucks over the past two weeks.

The department has been called out to the flower beds between Ridley Square and Vansickle Rd. a shocking 21 times since June 8 — seven times on Thursday alone.

Dry, smoking mulch, it appears, is to blame.

“Mulch looks good, but we can’t continue to go like that with calls,” said fire Chief Mark Mehlenbacher Friday, explaining the trips are tying up resources and putting firefighters on foot in the middle of a traffic-heavy street.

The chief said some of the fires are being started by careless discarding of cigarettes into the mulch, which is very dry. Others, he said, might be started by spontaneous combustion.

But if spontaneous combustion is the problem, it’s not happening in gardens across the city.

“I’m not sure where they got the mulch or what’s going on, because there just seems to be something wrong,” Mehlenbacher said. “Now and again we get mulch fires, but right now this is an anomaly, there’s no question, and that’s why we’re looking into it.”

He said he’d be working with the parks and recreation department to come up with a solution.

The street is a regional road, but the flower bed medians are maintained by the city.

Parks and recreation director Rick Lane said there’s nothing mysterious about the Fourth Ave. mulch.

He said the unusually warm weather and cigarette combination is to blame.

The department uses mulch in flower beds all over the city. Lane said those other beds are often adjacent to sidewalks and people tend to throw cigarette butts on the ground and trample them, rather than toss them in the gardens. But the Fourth Ave. medians are surrounded by slow moving traffic and more cigarette butts are being tossed into flowers.

“Hopefully, (Thursday) night the rain we had will dampen that down,” Lane said. “We do have irrigation systems in there so we’ll be monitoring that as well if this dry spell continues on.”…read more

Many thanks to the reference for this article, written and released by the St. Catherines Standard newspaper.

Karena Walter. “Chief Steamed by mulch fires.” The Standard, Saturday, June 23, 2012. Accessed August 17th 2012