Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Rake Your Mulch

I have a public service announcement from my Weight Watchers leader!

On Sunday afternoon, she was watching a movie with her husband while the kids were taking a nap. She detected the faint smell of smoke and figured someone lit an outdoor fire pit (it being Memorial Day weekend, that's not unheard of). Some time later, a neighbor was banging frantically on their door. When they opened the door, smoke billowed in and set off the smoke alarms. Almost half of the front porch was ablaze.

The neighbor had already called the fire department who showed up just as everyone got out of the house. They put the fire out and told her the cause: the mulch lining the front porch had spontaneously combusted. The fire department said it's more common than people think and most people don't know it can happen. It tends to happen in the summer, and whole houses have been known to burn down while people are away on vacations.

Mulch is plant material that, we all should know, is combustible. As it decays, it releases heat. When mixed with oxygen, it can cause flame, igniting all the burnable material, producing more heat, consuming more oxygen, spreading more flame. It usually starts inside the pile of mulch, where it's really warm. The fire department recommended raking your mulch at least twice a season to release that heat so it doesn't build up to the point where it will combust. My leader said she's going to do it every time they mow the lawn. Mulch that is new and has been sitting in large piles for a while is of greater risk, as is mulch that is really old and at an advanced stage of decay.

Fortunately, they only lost the front porch which the landlord was going to try to replace anyway.

So, go out and rake your mulch!

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