Avoiding Mulch Fires

One of the most satisfying parts of landscaping can be putting down a new layer of mulch each season. It’s an instant facelift to gardens and beds and it also helps to prevent weeds and allows plants to retain moisture for longer during the hot summer days. However, something that not everyone knows about mulch is that mulch can spontaneously combust, causing fires that can quickly damage your home. 

Mulch is a combustible material, it can catch fire easily, particularly in hot, dry weather. Shredded wood or wood chips, which are most commonly used for landscape mulch beds are not only easily ignited, but piles of mulch can also auto-ignite, due to the heat that builds up inside them. This can create smoldering tunnels that when they reach the surface, can burst into flame. This is most likely to happen when mulch is more than a few inches deep, so before you put down new mulch, it is best to remove the mulch leftover from last year. 

Keeping mulch damp can help to reduce the risk of fire. When you water your plants, water your mulch as well! 

Preventing mulch fires is not difficult, but it is important as flammable mulch materials can quickly spread fire to surrounding areas. To prevent this, some municipalities require a crushed rock barrier of 18 inches between organic mulch material and residences. This way, if the mulch catches fire, it has less opportunity to spread to the home. 

The number one cause of mulch fires is improperly discarded smoking materials. Disposing of smoking materials in a proper receptacle is vital to keeping embers from forming in your mulch. Just one dropped cigarette can get a fire started, and if there are high winds present, you can have a serious problem on your hands. So make sure that all cigarettes, ash, etc. are placed in a fire-proof container. Improperly disposing of these materials is just asking for trouble. 

Finally, maintain proper clearance for electrical devices, such as timers and decorative lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Always check for fraying of wires as well to prevent sparks in your mulch. 

By following these tips you can keep your yard, and your home, safe from mulch fires.