WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – A mulch fire Tuesday, April 17 in the Lowe's parking lot off Rte. 9 was extinguished in about 20 minutes of the fire department's arrival.
Captain Robert Rand of the Westborough Fire Department said that bark mulch by itself is not usually a problem, and mulch is usually damp this time of year. However, it's been a dry, warm spring, and there are other factors that can result in mulch fires. Simple precautions, such as properly disposing of cigarettes, can reduce the risk of mulch fires.
Burning embers from brush fires that land on mulch are a potential risk. The fire department was not issuing burn permits on Wednesday, April 18, and it seemed unlikely that any permits would be issued by the end of the week. The burn season ends May 1.
Rand also warned against keeping a barbecue grill on a mulch bed, because grease drippings can also cause a fire.
One of the stranger potential causes of mulch fires? Animals. Rand said that there has been rare incidents of birds or other animals taking cigarettes from exterior ash trays. The smoking material is dropped in mulch, and if still hot enough, will ignite a fire.
“You laugh, but it does occur,” Rand said.
Vehicles parked too close to mulch may cause fire, because a car's exhaust pipe may heat up the mulch enough to begin combustion. “It's not something that happens every day,” said Rand.
Mulch itself should not be laid adjacent to a building's foundation, Rand said, and a stone barrier should be laid between any mulch bed and the structure. According to the National Fire Protection Association, keeping mulch away from siding not only can limit the spread of fire, it can also keep carpenter ants and other pests out of the home.
According to a 2010 NFPA report, “Too often, the discarded cigarettes end up in the landscaping mulch, leaves, or vegetation.” The report cited a Massachusetts Department of Fire Services press release that said 184 fires over five years began with mulch and spread to buildings.
“A 2008 Massachusetts fire caused $5 million in damage to a sprinklered apartment building. Thirty-six residents were permanently displaced,” the NFPA reported.