Spring has sprung and summer is on the horizon, which means property owners and tenants are hard at work to spruce up the exterior of their properties with flowers and new mulch. While fresh landscaping is a welcomed sight, it should come as no surprise that mulch is a combustible material, and it can be easily ignited by things like improperly discarded smoking materials. While a mulch fire outside is certainly a threat, these fires spreading to buildings is the biggest threat. To make matters worse, building smoke alarms and sprinklers won’t detect these fires until they have grown large enough to enter the building – making this a tremendous risk for both property and people.
How Mulch Fires Start
In many mulch fires, the smoldering mulch tunnels under the surface and then breaks out into open flame. Mulch that is piled too deeply, more than a few inches, can build up heat and spontaneously catch fire.
Mulch fires start more readily when the weather is hot and it has been dry for an extended time. Factors such as below-average rainfall, dry conditions, warm temperatures, and high winds increase the risk of mulch fires.
Tips for Property Management:
- Provide a minimum of an 18″ clearance between landscape mulch beds and combustible building materials, such as wood, vinyl siding and decks.
- Use non-combustible mulch such as rock or pea stone around gas meters and combustible portions of the structure.
- Provide proper receptacles for smoking materials at all entrances to public buildings and in designated smoking areas. Place them at least 18″ away from the building, do not mulch in these areas and remember to regularly empty smoking receptacles.
- Grounds and maintenance crews should be aware when conditions are favorable for mulch fires and increase surveillance of mulch beds.
- Keep mulch beds moist when possible.
Report Mulch Fires
If you see smoke coming from a landscape bed:
- Put it out if you can
- Report it
If the burning material is not thoroughly wet or removed, it can re-ignite. Report any smoke or fire by calling 911 and notify the management office immediately.
Be a Responsible Smoker
Simply put, smokers should remember to put it out, all the way, every time.
- If you smoke, properly dispose of all smoking materials.
- Always use appropriate receptacles for disposing smoking materials and matches.
- Do not discard cigarettes in mulch or potted plants.
- Use ashtrays that won’t burn or catch fire. These ashtrays should be deep enough to contain butts.
- As more people smoke outdoors rather than inside, many building fires started by smoking begin on decks, porches and exterior stairways.
- Consider using metal cans with sand for outdoor disposal.
- Never throw lit smoking materials out of a car window. It is a fire risk and is illegal.
When storing mulch, building owners and tenants should remember:
- Large piles of mulch can spontaneously combust from the heat they generate. It is important to be vigilant and employ good housekeeping. The distance between mulch piles keeps a fire from spreading from one pile to another, or to a building.
- Maintain a distance of 30-feet between piles and from a building.
Reach Out to a Trusted Advisor
The RCM&D Risk Consulting team stands ready to help protect your property as the seasons change and new risks emerge. Talk to a trusted advisor today for more information on fire prevention.