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

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