Town hall fire

In the year since Montague Town Hall was destroyed by fire, mulch fires have become more prevalent across PEI.

Fire chiefs in Kings County all agree people need to be more vigilant when it comes to placement of black mulch.

“If you have it and you want to keep it, keep it wet,” Montague Fire Chief Tommy MacLeod said.

That department has received three or four black mulch related fire calls in the past couple of years aside from the town hall fire.

“It is always mulch around a deck or outside a business where people are smoking,” he said.

Last fall the Provincial Fire Marshal’s Office determined the town hall blaze was caused by mulch in the flower bed igniting and then spreading to the building.

The town hall has wood shingles, but vinyl siding can be just as flammable according to Mr MacLeod.

“Vinyl siding once it starts going it just goes right up the wall,” he said. “Once it gets into the eave of a house it goes right into the attic.”

Georgetown Fire Chief Mark Gotell said the provincial code of placing black mulch no closer than 18 inches to a building should be heeded, but there are ample reasons to take more precautions.

“Anybody that has it should keep it away from combustible material and certainly don’t be discarding cigarette butts near mulch of any sort, but black seems to be the one causing all the mischief,” Mr Gotell said.

Still cigarette butts and/or sparks aren’t the only culprits.

“The sun the right way on a piece of glass will give it an ignition source,” he added.

“Of course it draws the heat more so than the red or regular cedar mulch.”

Mr Gotell recalls only one mulch related call their department received several years ago.

“We did respond to a doorstep on fire and smoldering underneath,” he said. “The thing was it was noticed relatively early so there was very minimal damage to the doorstep but we did have to remove some of the deck boards and plywood on the step.”

Souris Fire Chief Colin LaVie advises to remove old mulch from an area instead of covering it over with new.

Don’t keep it too thick and keep it wet,” he said.

A couple of years ago the Souris department responded to a mulch fire in a flower bed at the RCMP barracks.

That incident was fairly minor as it wasn’t next to the building.

Public places where the black mulch is a popular landscaping tool are particularly vulnerable, Mr LaVie said.

He was on hand to put out a small fire in a mulched bed outside a coffee shop in Cavendish during the music festival last month.

With the extreme heat lately there could be several contributing factors said Eastern Kings Fire Chief Mike Poole.

They haven’t had to respond to any mulch related fires in their coverage area, but notes since the two major fires last month in Charlottetown and Brackley Beach, many businesses in urban areas of the Island are removing mulch and replacing it with gravel.

“Between wet and dry there is a world of difference,” Mr Poole said. “When the mulch is dry it just goes up... There is no fire retardant in it.”

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