Got mulch? Charlottetown fire department releases new guidelines

The Charlottetown fire department is asking people to follow new recommendations to use extra care when using mulch.

The department says that over the past five years, they have responded to about 12 mulch fires a year, including fires that destroyed a Charlottetown apartment building and the North Winds Inn in Brackley Beach, P.E.I., last summer. 

"Mulch itself doesn't pose a danger," said Charlottetown fire department Deputy Chief Tim Mamye.

"More often than not, [it's] a cigarette being discarded or not properly extinguished and put into a mulch area instead of a proper receptacle."

If people are using mulch, the fire department recommends:

  • Keeping mulch at least 45 centimetres away from buildings or structures.
  • Mulch layers be no more than seven centimetres thick.
  • Large piles of mulch should not be exposed to sun.
  • Keeping mulch wet when used near or around a structure.

Preventing the preventable

Both the city's fire department and the provincial fire marshal said properly disposing of smoking material, like matches or cigarettes, is crucial to preventing mulch fires. 

"The biggest thing above all is try to avoid an ignition source getting in there … 98 per cent of the causes of mulch fires is related to smoking material," said provincial Fire Marshal David Rossiter. 

"We recommend that you do water that mulch the same as you would water flowers."

Steve Bruce/CBC

Rossiter said leaving that 45 centimetres of space between the mulch and a structure creates a firebreak, which is a gap in vegetation that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a fire.

"For the most part, you know, the fires that we deal with are not in huge piles, they're in beds that are next to a structure," he said.

If you are using piles of mulch, the fire marshal recommends that you turn the piles and work them up every day to be safe.

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Mamye said part of the issue with mulch is the summer winds and warm weather.

"It's a living material, it's wood chips, so it decomposes, it generates heat," he said.

"Heat from the exterior as well, which is direct sunlight and or the hot humid temperatures, they all add to that so they change the mixing of the composition."

Rossiter and Mamye also recommended using alternative materials to mulch where possible, such as crushed rock, brick or pea gravel.

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