Thursday, November 29, 2007
11/07/07 – The Chapel Hill Town Council adopted an ordinance on Oct. 22, 2007, for the purpose of improving fire safety in the community. The ordinance bans the use of pine straw or pine needles as landscaping materials within 10 feet of any commercial or multi-family residential buildings that have combustible exterior coverings. This means buildings with exterior finishes made of wood, vinyl, plastic, or other burnable materials. Exterior walls made of brick, concrete, block, metal or non-combustible materials are not included in the ban. Single family residences are also excluded from the ban on using pine straw. This does not address the natural fall of pine needles from trees. That process (with a few rare exceptions) does not produce enough depth and density of material to cause a fast moving and growing fire.
Building owners with lots of wood trim or other combustible trim materials on the outside of a brick or non-combustible building may also want to consider removing pine straw mulch from close to the building in order to decrease their risk of a spreading fire.
Pine straw is commonly used in sculpted flower beds, around trees and as an accent around buildings and sidewalks. The danger is that pine straw is very flammable when dry and burns at a very high rate when compared to other landscaping mulch materials such as wood chips, pine bark or stone/gravel. There have been several fires in multi-family buildings this year around Chapel Hill caused by someone tossing a discarded cigarette into pine straw mulch next to a building. Earlier this year, 32 units of a Raleigh town home complex were destroyed in this same manner. Pine straw burns at a spread rate four times that of any other mulching materials and burns three times taller. This hot and fast spreading fire can result in spreading up the side of the building before anyone even notices it.
The Chapel Hill Fire Department will not begin strict enforcement of this ordinance before Feb. 1, 2008, in order to allow property owners ample opportunity to consider how they will change the mulch within 10 feet of their buildings. Pine straw used around trees and flowers beds or as an accent away from the buildings is still acceptable. Anyone with questions may contact the Chapel Hill Fire Marshal’s office at (919) 969-2006 for additional information. Information is also available on the Town of Chapel Hill website at www.townofchapelhill.org.