For Immediate Release - May 07, 2014

Prevent Mulch Fires: Follow Regulation and Dispose of Smoking Materials Safely

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and fire chiefs across the state want to remind building owners, property managers, nurseries and landscaping companies about the proper placement and storage of mulch in order to prevent these types of fires. Coan said, “It’s important to keep mulch 18” away from building exteriors.”

Revised Regulation Has New Mulch Safety Provision

The revised regulation, 527 CMR 17, took effect in September 2012 and prohibits the new application of mulch within 18” around combustible exteriors of buildings, such as wood or vinyl but not brick or concrete. Residential buildings with six units or less are exempted from this regulation, but all homeowners may also wish to adopt these safety practices. The regulation applies to all other buildings including commercial properties.

Keep Mulch 18” Away From Buildings

Here are some tips for property managers and building owners on how to prevent mulch fires:

  • Keep wood mulch 18” away from combustible exteriors of buildings such as wood or vinyl siding. Don’t put it right up against the building.
  • Use materials such as pea stone or crushed rock for the first 18” as a barrier around the foundation of the building and around gas and electrical meters.
  • Provide proper receptacles for smoking materials.

On the Department of Fire Service’s website, there is a Mulch FireFactor a one-page, 2-sided educational hand-out on mulch fire safety and the regulation. pdf format of MulchFires-2013-1362672454235.pdf
It can be used by fire departments to educate the community on the regulation and for building managers, landscapers and companies that store and sell mulch, to educate their staff.

Coan said, “This is the second spring these regulations have been in place. Every year, we experience fires large and small started by cigarettes tossed into piles of mulch. Bark mulch is a combustible product that can easily catch fire.” He added, “We are asking smokers to take responsibility for properly disposing of their butts and prevent fires. Improperly disposing of a cigarette into a pile of mulch or dried leaves is reckless and people know it.”

Containers for Safe Disposal of Smoking Materials

“Businesses that are sprucing up their landscaping should also provide and maintain a safe receptacle for disposing of smoking materials so that patrons won’t start fires by flicking cigarettes into the mulch,” said Coan, “Metal containers with sand are best.”

National Smoking Campaign: Put It Out, All the Way, Every Time

The U.S. Fire Administration has a campaign on preventing smoking fires that encourages smokers to Put It Out. All the Way. Every Time. Log onto for more information.

Storage and Manufacturing of Mulch

The revised regulation also has safety requirements for those who store or manufacture mulch. It limits the size of mulch piles and requires a distance of 30-feet between piles and 25-feet from the lot line. Large piles of mulch can easily spontaneously combust with all the heat they generate, so it’s important to be vigilant and employ good housekeeping. The distance between piles prevents a fire in one from easily spreading to another or to a building.

Permits Required to Store 300+ Cubic Yards of Mulch

Permits are required from the fire department wherever more than 300 cubic yards of mulch is produced or stored.

Massachusetts Fires Caused by Smoking Materials

In Massachusetts during 2012, 1,977 fires were caused by smoking including: 585 structure fires, 31 motor vehicle fires, 1,065 tree, brush or grass fires, 99 trash or rubbish fires, 111 special outside fires, and 11 cultivated vegetation or crop fires. These fires caused four civilian deaths, 39 civilian injuries, 48 firefighter injuries and an estimated $19.3 in property damage.