​Could mulch catch fire and burn down a home?

Written by Bryan Clayton on December 27, 2016

Could mulch catch fire and burn down a home?

When taking a leisurely stroll in the woods, one is normally not surprised to see pine needles, leaves, and bark. However, the purpose of these elements is not as obvious. Mother Nature protects herself with these natural coverings—organic mulch is one of the ways the forest’s eco-system maintains growth and prosperity.

Similarly, landscaping mulch is environmentally friendly and has been a staple in landscaping for homeowners across the country; it not only adds curb appeal to a home, but also can help prevent water loss to the soil by halting evaporation, diminishing the infestation of weeds, and enriching soil as it decomposes. But are homeowners aware that mulch can also be flammable and, if ignited, cause damage to surrounding buildings and homes?

Since most mulch is created from organic materials such as wood chips, leaves, and/or bark chips, it is certainly flammable. Compost, especially in dry-summery weather, is responsible for thousands of fires across the United States each year. However, this is preventable. Below are some tips that can ensure a homeowner is not “fanning” any flames when it comes to laying mulch.

Don’t provide an accelerator—A high percentage of mulch fires are started by people unintentionally. According to Soil & Mulch Producer News, over a quarter of mulch fires can be attributed to human creation. To avoid this, cigarette butts, cigars, and/or matches should not disposed of in these flammable areas. Placing a receptacle in or around designated smoking spots can insure that one does not accidentally ignite any mulch.

Water regularly—Since most mulch is dark in color, it absorbs more heat and reaches high temperatures. Especially in the summer months, mulch can get very dry and enter a more flammable state. To combat this concern, watering mulch when watering plants can help keep moisture in the mulch at an ideal level and keep inner temperatures at a lower, safer state.

Avoid spreading too thickly—When mulch is left in large heaps, steam can be produced when mixed with cooler air. In addition, if spread too thickly when landscaping a home or business, heat can be trapped within the mulch causing a fire to be ignited more easily. To prevent this scenario, spreading mulch in thin layers across the property, ideally 2-4 inches, will keep soil water loss at a minimum, weed contamination under control, and temperatures low.

Give it space—Mulching around or up against a building or home can certainly increase chances the causing any damage to a property if a mulch fire occurs. If at all possible, providing a minimum of 18-inches of clearance between landscaping mulch and any building and/or materials that are combustible is advisable; pesticides, gas cans, and fertilizers can help accelerate a flame if ignited. Also, ensuring proper distance between any electrical devices, such as Christmas lights or decorative lit ornaments, by following the manufacturer’s instructions, is yet another good practice. As an extra precaution, adding a 10-20 inch strip of decorative river rock around the home's structure can also create a beneficial barrier; almost like a firewall between the home and the mulch. As an added bonus, rock barriers also protect the property from rot and mold that can accumulate from years of decomposing mulch.

Whether you are landscaping in Hendersonville, Tn or landscaping in Kannapolis, North Carolina, mulching a lawn is a practice that most homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers engage in. In fact, it is rarer to see a home without mulch than it is with mulch. This organic fertilizer instantly adds a certain visual upgrade to a property and offers a great way to nurture trees, plants, and shrubs. Even though the probability of mulch fires is relatively low, there is always a safety concern when it comes to any burnable material. By following these tips, however, a homeowner can rest assured that decorative mulch is there for aesthetic and nurturing reasons only—and as a flammable material just waiting for ignition.